Are women now better represented in films than ever before?

Here’s Ivan filling in for Lisa – she saw a chart that I created and asked me to turn it into a Weekly Chart.

With the Oscars 2019 come and gone this past Sunday, it’s as good a time as ever to ask the question: how well are women represented in films? I used the Bechdel test to attempt to answer this question:

The test criteria seem basic, but it’s shocking to discover that a large proportion of films do not actually meet them. The Bechdel test website provides a large list of films and whether they pass the test. Among the “highlights”: not a single film from the Mission: Impossible series (there are 6 in total!) passes it.

Considering the progress that has been made over recent decades with regards to women’s rights,[1]  I thought it would be interesting to look at how representation of women in films has developed over time.

Getting the data

The aforementioned Bechdel test website provides a convenient API which I used to download data for all films in the database[2] 

The downloaded data is in JSON format. I wrote a node.js script to group films into decades and calculate percentages of films that pass the different criteria. The script also converts data into CSV format which can be uploaded to Datawrapper. I excluded the earlier decades as they contained very little data.

With data now at my disposal, I went on to create the visualisation itself.

Chart Choices

I used the humble stacked bar chart to visualise the data. Each decade is represented by a single bar. Percentage proportions corresponding to the number of Bechdel test criteria passed are clearly visible through color-coding. The stacked bar chart also makes it quick and easy to make comparisons between the decades and see the overall trend emerging over time.

The Bechdel test is just one way of looking at representation of women in films. If you know of any further approaches or metrics dealing with this topic, or want to share your thoughts on the Bechdel test, let me know in the comments!

  1. It’s debatable how much real progress has been made – this big and important topic is outside the scope of this article. However to me the general trend seems to be positive, with an increasing amount of laws being adopted to support women’s rights and entitlements worldwide. In any case there is still a long way to go. ↩︎

  2. Typing in curl > data.json in the terminal will download the data and save it as data.json↩︎