Examining Sexism in Hollywood

DataRes at UCLA
8 min readMar 17, 2024

Authors: Megha Velakacharla (Project Lead), Yulia Anashkina, Nathan Chen, Millie Huang, Ethan Rauchwerk, Jasmine Yung


Gender disparities have long characterized the landscape of filmmaking in Hollywood. Despite their talents, qualifications, and creative visions, many female filmmakers, actors, and crew members face unequal opportunities, unequal pay, and unequal recognition compared to their male counterparts. This article delves into how systemic biases affect representation, critical acclaim, and audience perceptions. By dissecting these issues, we gain insight into the complexities of sexism in cinema and the ongoing pursuit of inclusivity and equality. Fostering these dialogues marks a crucial step towards creating an environment where all voices are heard, all talents are valued, and all stories are appreciated without bias.

Examining the Reception Female-Directed Films

Above, the proportion of positive reviews received for male- versus female-directed movies on Rotten Tomatoes is displayed. While historically male-directed films have garnered more favorable critiques, the trend has shifted in the past two decades, according to the bar graph above. However, the below visualization puts things further into perspective. The proportion of total reviews written about female-directed movies is minuscule compared to those written about male-directed movies. Despite receiving better reviews, movies directed by women attract significantly less attention from critics due to their scarcity in the industry. This glaring inequality indicates a deeper issue: the systemic lack of opportunities for female directors.

Assessing the Relationship Between Female Crews and Film Ratings

To further explore how gender might play a role in a film’s success, it might be helpful to assess if differing proportions of women working on a film might have different effects. To visualize this relationship, the plot below explores the relationship between the percentage of women in a film crew versus film popularity.

The plot depicts a scatterplot of popularity ratings of films from The Movie Database (TMDB) based on the percentage of women in the film crew. The TMDB popularity rating is calculated from a variety of factors, including the number of votes for the film, the number of views for the day, the number of users who marked the film as a favorite, and the number of users who added the film to their watchlist. The scatterplot shows that popularity seems to decrease as the proportion of women on a film crew increases. However, it is also important to note that the volume of data seems to drastically decrease as the percentage of women in film crews increases, suggesting that women are not equally represented in film crews, which may be attributed to the smaller number of opportunities available for women in the film industry.

Oscar Tweet Analysis

The Oscars are regarded as the most prestigious award show in Hollywood, and the awards are split into gendered categories. This gives us insight into the effect that winning an Oscar has on the public sentiment of an actor or actress. We web-scraped for tweets mentioning the winners in the Oscar categories for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress from the 3 hours before the ceremony (2–5 pm PST) and 3 hours after the ceremony (9 pm-12 am). The sentiment of the tweets was found using a dedicated Twitter sentiment analysis model from Hugging Face. In the above graph, we show the change in the percent of tweets with positive, neutral, and negative ratings from the 2019–2023 Oscars, split by the gender of the Oscar winner based on the award they won.

Overall, tweets mentioning actresses were more positive. The 2022 and 2023 Oscars had notable controversies: In 2023, many people were dissatisfied with Jamie Lee Curtis’s win for Best Supporting Actress. In 2022, Will Smith’s infamous Chris Rock slap caused the line to slope closer to zero. This graph shows that many other factors, like the behavior of the nominee, the competitors that lost in the category, and the overall reputation of an actor have a greater effect on the actor’s perception than their gender.

Gender and Racial Disparity in Oscar-Winning Directors

These pie charts show the clear racial and gender discrepancy in both director Oscar nominees and winners up to 2019. Almost all Oscar-nominated directors are white, with a couple being black or Asian. Only one non-white director has won an Oscar. Similarly, the majority of Oscar-nominated directors are men, with only a few women being nominated and just one woman ever winning. Because so few non-white and female directors are nominated, we can’t say that their race or gender correlates with their chances of winning after being nominated. But we can say for sure that minorities and women are extremely underrepresented in Oscar nominations for best director.

Ageism Towards Women in Hollywood

Ageism is a pervasive issue in Hollywood that disproportionately affects women compared to men. Despite strides towards inclusivity and diversity in recent years, the entertainment industry continues to grapple with systemic biases that often sideline older actresses in favor of their younger counterparts. While there have been incremental improvements, with some high-profile actresses advocating for more substantial roles and nuanced representations of older women, there continues to be greater scrutiny and limited opportunities that come with being an older actress in Hollywood. Even the critically acclaimed Meryl Streep commented on the nature of serious roles available to middle-aged women: “These are the roles they write for women my age. Usually, they are sort of gorgons or dragons or in some way grotesque.”

Examining the specific casting choices for romantic leads can provide valuable insights into the extent of the problem and the trajectory of progress achieved.

Illustrated above are the age gaps between male and female love interests in films spanning from 1935 to 2023. It reveals a consistent trend: historically, male actors tend to be far older than their female costars in romantic roles. However, there has been a noticeable reduction in the average age gap over time, as well as a significant increase in the variance and dispersion of age gaps. This means that while most films continue to feature older male actors, there has been a surge in movies with even wider age disparities as well as an emergence of films where the female actor is slightly older. Despite these variations, on average male actors tend to be around 10 years older than their female costars in romantic roles.

This consistent discrepancy perpetuates unrealistic standards for women and creates potentially harmful stereotypes about relationships and aging. Seemingly harmless casting choices can have lasting impacts on societal perceptions of female worth.

Age Gap in Bond Girl Films

There are over 50 years of the James Bond Series, and there are about 75 ‘Girls,’ or love interests, throughout. There are a variety of age gaps between the lead actors and actresses, ranging from zero years to over 30 years. In some cases, the female actress is older than the male actor, but that does not hold true in most cases. The trend from the graph above shows that the harmful narrative of men having to be older than their female costars is evident in Bond Girl Films.

However, this visual does show some positive implications. From the regression line, we can see a downward trend between the age gap and the box office earnings ($) in the movies. This could indicate that too large of an age gap could be unappealing and unrelatable to the audience. This raises the question of why box office earnings are higher when females are older than males. This could indicate that older women in the relationship are fetishized on screen– possibly causing off-screen fetishes as a result– making people more inclined to watch, but more research on confounding factors should be done to confirm this hypothesis. Such confounding variables may include the year of the film, the budget of the set, and the popularity of the actors/actresses.

Women at the Box Office

Next, we examined the relationship between women and their contributed earnings to the box office. This visualization highlights the international gross earned by movies and the international gross per dollar of budget, both of which are adjusted for inflation, from 1970 to 2013. A movie’s gross is faceted by the passing of the Bechdel Test, which is a test to measure the representation of women based on whether or not the movie has at least two women who talk to each other about something that is not a man. Overall, we can conclude from the visualization that films that pass the Bechdel Test tend to gross more at the box office, followed by those with women present who do not talk to each other, with films with no women present at all earning the least. The disparity at the box office between films that pass the Bechdel Test and those that do not imply that audiences seek more female representation at the movies; as a result, we cannot count women out of entertainment due to a lack of box office success.


Our analysis of various facets of gender disparities in Hollywood reveals ingrained systemic biases that continue to hinder equal opportunities and representation for women. Despite incremental progress, evidenced by shifts in film reviews, Oscar sentiments, and casting choices, significant imbalances persist. Ageism remains a prominent issue, reflected in casting choices that perpetuate age gaps, underscoring the need for more nuanced and inclusive narratives. However, positive trends, such as the financial viability of films that prioritize female representation, signal an audience demand for female representation and more diverse storytelling. Addressing these disparities requires ongoing efforts and continued dialogues to challenge entrenched norms and foster greater diversity both in front of and behind the camera.