Beyond Bechdel: How The 2019 Oscars Stack Up on Female Representation
Posted: February 22, 2019 | Updated: February 9, 2023
A year after the “Time’s Up” movement owned the Academy Awards, women continue to play a powerful role in the evolution of Hollywood and ts most prestigious awards ceremony.
From power hungry (“The Favourite,” “Vice”) to fiercely loyal (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” “A Star Is Born”), patient (“Green Book,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”), formidable (“Black Panther,” “BlackKklansman”), and strong in the face of suffering (“Roma”), it’s clear at a glance that this year’s Best Picture nominees represent a diverse range of female roles, played by an equally diverse range of actresses.
But exactly how do this year’s nominees stack up against years past? When it comes to female representation, is the needle still moving in the right direction?
We used StoryFit’s AI-driven software to look at these films from a quantitative perspective and found that, overall, we are seeing stronger and more realistic female characters and female representation in films.
This year saw a significant increase in female relationships as defined by the Bechdel Test.
Half of this year’s Best Picture nominees pass.
In fact, female relationships far outweigh male relationships as a subject matter among this year’s films, although as a rule, this year’s films seem to either have a central focus on female relationships, or they do not bring up the topic at all.
At least for now, when women interact, the trend is toward stronger connections
One of the most striking results we came across this year was the power and range of female emotions represented in Best Picture nominees.
Historically, female characters tend to not show a very wide range of emotions, sticking mainly to non-threatening feelings like joy and sadness. Yet this year female emotion increased across all of the emotions we track, most significantly fear and disgust.
Female characters also tended to use more forceful language in their dialogue, as we saw a doubling in the amount of yelling and excitement (from 7% to 17%) in female characters compared to last year.
Unequal Dialogue with Men
Women may have more passionate dialogue than in years past, but they don’t have much of it.
Since the 1940s and still today, men speak more words and have more turns to speak than women do in films.
However, the topics of discussion have changed — females experienced a large increase in their dialogue discussing technology, their careers, and small but important increases in dialogue discussing politics and democracy this year.
Interestingly, male dialogue has shown a decrease in career discussion and an increase in talk about babies and parenting
Progress Is Steady
These results show a promising trend toward better female characters and female-led stories, and the recognition of those stories by the Academy. For the first time, it seems reasonable to presume that a future exists when the Bechdel Test will be considered passe, and Hollywood will naturally and enthusiastically portray women as they are — diverse, complex, fascinating, and more than worthy of equal screen time.