For Steven Spielberg, who has a tendency to make films concerned with various types of aliens — see: “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” War of the Worlds,” etc., etc. — there is, apparently, one kind of character who is just a bit too foreign to handle: a woman who speaks as much as the men around her.
The folks at Polygraph have sorted through an exhaustive set of data on Hollywood movies — more on their methods, shortly — to prove what many of us all already knew: men overwhelmingly dominate dialogue in film. (Those men are also overwhelmingly white; that exploration, we hope, is also on Polygraph’s docket.) Much to the chagrin of Spielberg fans everywhere, the prolific director and producer does not come out well in their analysis. Eight of his films — “Duel, Schindler’s List,” “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Men in Black 3,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” and “Bridge of Spies” — rank in the top 100 results for films with dialogue of which 90% or more is spoken by men, while only one, “True Grit,” which Spielberg executive produced, ranks in the top 100 for gender parity. No Spielberg film appears in the top 100 for films with 60-90% or 90%+ female dialogue.
For the study, Polygraph assembled 8,000 screenplays. In each, they identified the gender of every actor who spoke more than 100 words, and sorted at least 90% of each movie’s lines out by the gender of the actors uttering them. A few caveats: Polygraph relied on IMDB to sort out the genders of the actors, but characters minor enough to speak less than 100 words are often mislabeled in that database, so in some films there were women with speaking parts who were not counted. (That wouldn’t affect most of their data too significantly, as it was concerned with women’s proportion of the dialogue; a few women saying less than 100 words would be unlikely to seriously tip that scale.) They also worked with screenplays, not completed films; since directors often change sections of scripts and add or remove characters from the finished product, the data isn’t an entirely accurate reflection of the completed movies.
Still, for Spielberg the trend is unmistakable. The films of his listed above indicate a clear interest in heavy political dramas, a passion at least as strong as that for aliens. Given the number of women leaders shaping policy and making headlines in the world today — Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, even the now-impeached Dilma Rouseff — we’d suggest he shouldn’t be at a loss for content with which to start working for more of a balance.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax