July 30, 2021

women on screen, the hidden side of cinema

Can artificial intelligence reduce gender inequalities in cinema? Probably not, but it can at least help to objectify this question, as a team from the Marc-Bloch Center in Berlin shows in an article to appear in the online journal. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.

A trio of computer scientists estimated the share of the number of female faces in all faces present in more than 3,770 films between 1985 and 2019, making it the largest study of its kind. Such a mass of data would have been impossible to process without the use of automatic gender identification algorithms, which is one of the specialties of artificial intelligence techniques using machine learning, which have been very effective since the 2010s.

The verdict, unsurprisingly, fell. On average, only 34% of the faces in this corpus are female. But, more original, the study shows that this ratio increases over time: it is around 45% for the period 2014-2019, against around 25% for the 1995-1998 tranche. Better still, the distribution is feminized in the last five years with 10% of films exceeding 60% of female faces, such as Bad Moms, Sisters, Rivales or Survival instinct, whereas there were none before 2014. The corpus was defined by taking the most downloaded movies from illegal peer-to-peer sites and present in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

Horror movies in mind

The result confirms conclusions reached by a team associated with Google in 2017 and which automatically sifted through the 100 box office films of the years 2014-2016. “We were getting roughly the same in terms of percentage, 36% women. And this is similar to what other researchers find when counting “by hand” ”, recalls Tanaya Guha, from the University of Warwick (England). His team had also shown that the female presence depends on the type of film. Horror productions have more women than romantic comedies or straight comedies, and detective films, which rank lower. The Berlin team also confirms this point and thus finds almost 38% of female faces on average in horror films against 31% in action films and police officers – one of the worst scores being Hunting for Red October (1990) with a 15% female presence in this fiction centered, it is true, on a military submarine.

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