Women get less dialogue in Hollywood films the older they get, study finds

Nicole Kidman

Survey of 2,000 movies reveals female actors are increasingly marginalised as they enter their 40s, while male stars in middle age are given more to say

Women are given less dialogue in Hollywood films the older they get, according to a new study.

A survey of 2,000 movies by Polygraph found that women between the ages of 22 and 31 spoke 38% of all female dialogue. The figure fell to 31% for actors aged 32 to 41 and 20% for those aged 42 to 65.

By contrast, male actors got more lines the older they became, right up to the age of 65. Men aged 42 to 65 got more dialogue (39%) than those aged 32 to 41 (32%) or 22 to 31 (20%).

However, both sexes suffered once they hit 65, with male actors getting 5% of dialogue, and female actors just 3%.

Polygraph also found that women often struggled to win dialogue even in ostensibly female-led projects. In the Disney films Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid, men spoke at least 70% of dialogue, though more recent projects from the Mouse House (Frozen, The Incredibles and Into the Woods) had a more even gender spread. Inside Out, Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland had more female speakers.

Of all the genres studied by Polygraph, action movies had the least female representation in terms of dialogue. Only nine films out of more than 300 surveyed featured a majority of speaking women.

The new survey confirms Hollywood’s gender bias. In 2014, a study by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television, Film and New Media at San Diego State University, found the world’s largest film industry marginalised women on screen to 30% of all speaking roles.

In related news, the director of pioneering action movie Hardcore Henry has defended the film against accusations that the vast majority of its female cast members play prostitutes.

Last week, The Wrap’s Tim Molloy pointed out that 31 of the Go Pro-shot video game riff’s 45 female characters were sex workers. Responding on Twitter, Ilya Naishuller said he was being “nice” by handing each of his female stars a full credit rather than listing them merely as extras. Molloy later hit back, advising Naishuller to “own” his misogyny, adding: “You set out to make an adolescent dude fantasy, right?”

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