“Popular movie content reflects social norms and beliefs"
According to an AI study by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists, Bollywood continues to associate female beauty with fair skin.
By analysing film dialogues from the last 70 years, researchers explored evolving social biases in the films that generations of Indians have grown up watching.
They selected 100 popular Bollywood films from each of the past seven decades, along with 100 of the top-grossing Hollywood films from the same period.
They then applied Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to the subtitles of 1.1 million dialogues from the films chosen.
In their study paper, the researchers wrote: “Our argument is simple.
“Popular movie content reflects social norms and beliefs in some form or shape.”
Tom Mitchell, Founders University professor in the School of Computer Science and a co-author of the study, said:
“It gives us a finer probe for understanding the cultural themes implicit in these films.”
Using a fill-in-the-blanks technique known as a close test, researchers sought to understand how beauty was portrayed in Bollywood films.
They trained a language model on the film subtitles then set it to complete the sentence:
“A beautiful woman should have [blank] skin.”
While a normal language model would predict “soft” as the answer, the fine-tuned version consistently selected the word “fair”.
The same thing happened when the model was trained on Hollywood subtitles, however, the bias was less pronounced.
The researchers blame it on the “age-old affinity toward lighter skin in Indian culture”.
It wasn’t just the continued preference for fair skin that was found.
The study also looked at the prevalence of female characters in films by comparing the number of gendered pronouns in the subtitles.
The results suggest that the progress towards gender parity in both Hollywood and Bollywood has been slow and fluctuating.
The male pronoun ratio in both film industries had dipped far less over time than a selection of Google Books.
The researchers also analysed sentiments about dowry in India since it became illegal in 1961 by analysing the vocabulary with which it was connected in the films.
Words like ‘loan’, ‘debt’ and ‘jewellery’ were found in films of the 1950s, suggesting compliance with the practice.
However, by the 2000s, the words most closely associated with dowry were more negative, such as ‘trouble’, ‘divorce’ and ‘refused’, implying more gloomy consequences.
Study co-author Ashiqur R KhudaBukhsh said:
“All of these things we kind of knew, but now we have numbers to quantify them.
“And we can also see the progress over the last 70 years as these biases have been reduced.”