Posted on August 8, 2017

Look Who’s Still Talking the Most in Movies: White Men

Johanna Barraug, New York Times, August 4, 2017

With “Wonder Woman” and “Girls Trip” riding a wave of critical and commercial success at the box office this summer, it can be tempting to think that diversity in Hollywood is on an upswing.

But these high-profile examples are not a sign of greater representation in films over all. A new study from the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering found that films were likely to contain fewer women and minority characters than white men, and when they did appear, these characters were portrayed in ways that reinforced stereotypes. And female characters, in particular, were generally less central to the plot.

The study, conducted by the school’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab, used artificial intelligence and machine learning to do a linguistic analysis of nearly 1,000 popular film scripts, mostly from the last several decades. Of the 7,000 characters studied, nearly 4,900 were men and just over 2,000 were women. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the male characters spoke far more than the female ones did, with 37,000 dialogues involving men and just 15,000 involving women.


Credit: © DC Entertainment/Entertainment Pictures

They found that the language used by female characters tended to be more positive, emotional and related to family values, while the language used by male characters was more closely linked to achievement. African-American characters were more likely to use swear words, and Latino characters were more apt to use words related to sexuality. Older characters, meanwhile, were more likely to discuss religion.


The study was one of two released recently by U.S.C. researchers that looked at diversity in film. The other, by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, found that in 900 films released from 2007 to 2016, the percentage of speaking characters who were women never climbed above 32.8 percent.

Of last year’s top 100 films, 47 had no black female characters at all, 66 had no Asian female characters and 72 had no Hispanic female characters.