Disney has been making feature-length animated films for nearly 80 years. In that time, they have they have created some of the most iconic characters in the history of the movies. The vast majority of their lead characters in that time have been women, so you might view Disney movies as a welcome change to all the male-dominated films that are pretty much the rest of the industry. Actually, it turns out that guys dominate Disney movies a lot more than you might realize.
Carmen Fought, a professor at Pitzer College, found that critics and researchers seemed to have very different opinions as to whether a particular Disney princess was a positive or negative role model. While everybody had an opinion, Fought found that few had any real support for their stance. This led her, along with Karen Eisenhauer, a graduate teaching assistant at North Carolina State University, to go looking for data. According to Yahoo, when the two crunched the numbers, they found that while the princess may be center stage, the men tend to dominate the conversation.
In the early days of Disney, princesses were in charge. Women have more dialogue than men in both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, although the dialogue is an even split in Snow White. This isn’t too surprising, in addition to their leading ladies, these movies also contain major female supporting characters like Maleficent, the Wicked Queen, and the Fairy Godmother. Most of our male heroes in all three films are absent for most of the movies, so they don’t ever say much.
What’s surprising is that during the renaissance of Disney animation that began in 1989, the men take over. While it’s not shocking to see that male voices have 90% of the lines in Aladdin, as there’s only one female character of note in the entire movie, and the film isn’t about her, it’s more surprising that 70% of the dialogue in Beauty and the Beast goes to men. The problem, according to Fought, is that while women have the lead roles in all these films, nearly all of the sidekick characters are male. From Sebastian the crab to the Genie to Lumiere, all of these characters' lines add up and eventually overwhelm the totals. Also, the fact that Ariel spends most of her movie mute didn’t help her numbers either.
While some of Disney’s recent efforts have improved the situation, it has not been better across the board. While Brave was a specific attempt to make a strong female role model, and the dialogue shows that, even Frozen, with it’s two strong women leading the charge, still had 59% of its dialogue spoken by men.
The study is not arguing that the characters in these films are not strong role models or that the movies don’t have progressive aspects, simply that by this metric women’s voices are given less time than men. The researchers admit that they are still in the early stages of their study, and there is likely much more interesting information to pull from the data.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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