such_heights: amy and rory looking at a pile of post (merlin: gwen)
Amy ([personal profile] such_heights) wrote2009-04-07 11:58 pm

Merlin Meta: Race and Gender Statistics

[ profile] beccaelizabeth started this current meta trend off with statistics on Torchwood - out of the speaking characters, how many are female, how many non-white characters are there, and does it pass the Bechdel test (women talking to each other about something other than a man)? [ profile] dsudis crunched numbers for the first season of Stargate SG-1. [ profile] lefaym also did a post last year on Doctor Who and the Bechdel Test. (If anyone knows of other, similar sets of stats out there, I'd love to see them!)

So, I decided to run the numbers for Merlin.

A couple of notes - this is looking at speaking characters only, and though I've tried to be objective as possible it's possible I've overlooked things, misjudged things, or that there are simply two valid cases to be made. (Especially with regard to the Bechdel Test, because I really wanted 'The Moment of Truth' to pass, for instance, but I don't think it does.)

Episode Title No. of Speaking Characters No. of Women % of Women Bechdel Test? No. of Non-White Characters % of Non-White Characters Death Tally
The Dragon's Call 12 6 50% Pass 2 17% 1 WM
3 WF
Valiant 10 2 20% Fail 2 20% 2 WM
The Mark of Nimueh 8 3 38% Pass 2 25% (none speaking, misc. plague victims)
The Poisoned Chalice 11 3 27% Fail 2 18% (none)
Lancelot 8 2 25% Fail 2 25% (none)
A Remedy To Cure All Ills 8 2 25% Fail 1 12.5% 1 WM
The Gates of Avalon 10 3 30% Fail 1 10% 1 WM
1 WF
The Beginning of the End 12 2 17% Pass 1 8% 1 WM
Excalibur 11 3 27% Fail 2 18% 2 WM
The Moment of Truth 10 3 30% Fail 2 20% 2 WM
The Labyrinth of Gedref 8 2 25% Pass 1 12.5% (none)
To Kill the King 8 2 25% Pass 2 25% 1 WM
Le Morte d'Arthur 8 4 50% Pass 1 12.5% 1 WF

[code - WM = white male, WF = white female, NWM = non-white male, NWF = non-white female]
[All corrections on both my counting and my maths welcome!]

Overall Stats

Out of 42 speaking parts over the 13 episodes, 27 were white men, 8 were white women, 6 were non-white men, and 1 was a non-white woman, giving us a 76/24 male/female ratio and a 83/17 white/non-white ratio.

In posts in other fandoms, people have made reference to the way these reflect the society in which the show is set. Though I would expect (well, hope for), a roughly 50/50 gender balance, the show's too anachronistic to make it worth my while pulling up figures on the different populations in Britain in the Middle Ages - which means, of course, that the set-up of the show allows them to cast as diversely as they'd like.

I'm not going to make a lot of commentary of the above figures, I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. All this really tells us is a baseline about who gets to speak, not anything else about representation or positive presentation. One last set of stats, however:

Congratulations! You've just ended up in Ye Olde Camelot. Here's how your survival chances are looking based on your gender and skin colour once you get there, assuming you get a speaking part.
  • If you are both white and male, you've got a 40% chance of dying.
  • If you're male but not white, you have a mortality rate of 67%.
  • If you're white and female it's 62.5%.
  • Good news, though! If you're female but not white, you have a guaranteed 100% survival rate. It's just that it's also 100% likely that you are in fact Guinevere.

eta: figures changed thanks to [ profile] heather11483's correction!
eta2: and again thanks to [ profile] oconel! (This, this is why I shouldn't be allowed near numbers.)

[identity profile] 2009-04-07 11:37 pm (UTC)(link)
I never know what to think about these things, because you also have to take into account the episodes in and of themselves when considering who gets more speaking lines. Considering the show revolves around Merlin, it makes sense that he'd get most of the lines, then his close friends get the next most, and so on. Furthermore, it's the first season, which means they're setting up everything important, which also means that Merlin has most of the plots revolve around him, so that we can see exactly what's going on...

I have no idea if anything I just said makes any sense.

It's just that it's also 100% likely that you are in fact Guinevere.
Aw, *hugs Gwen*
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[personal profile] snegurochka_lee 2009-04-07 11:50 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't watch Merlin, but I have to say I do adore the Bechtel test. The S.O. and I regularly perform it while watching just about anything. :)

(I shouldn't put a smiley face, actually: most shows do spectacularly fail it. Gah.)

[identity profile] 2009-04-07 11:56 pm (UTC)(link)
hee! oh, last line. &hearts :D

the race-and-gender numbers aren't great, but i think i can forgive them given the show's general time frame/setting (and despite the glaring anachronisms, haha). at least Merlin's got strong and interesting and complex female characters!
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[identity profile] 2009-04-07 11:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Merlin meta!! *glee*

Back in a sec for more input but Pellinore died in Excalibur, no? He's a PoC as well.

*is actually drawing a blank on male PoCs who didn't die, apart from Lance*

[identity profile] 2009-04-07 11:59 pm (UTC)(link)
So like, I am totally totally not trying to knock these stats because dude, awesome! And it was interesting to look at, too.

But I think boiling it down to WM, WF, NWM and NWF is totally oversimplifying things. I think these statistics (an area I admittedly don't know a whole bunch about) could be skewed in favor of whatever type of result you wanted. If I were to do the same thing for the show "The Wire," you can bet the vast majority of speaking roles would go to NWM, and the majority of dead people would probably also be NWM. But then if you take "Dawson's Creek," I can't even remember ONE NWP at all on that show in the entire time it aired (of course there probably were, but I don't remember them). Of course these examples (and since it's simply about race and gender) make sense because these are the types of stories they are portraying. Inner city Baltimore is mostly a minority community, whereas suburban Massachusetts in the late 90s was most likely pretty white.

I don't really think you should expect a 50/50 gender balance on this show. There are six main characters: one of which is the title male character, one is a king and one is a prince. There's two pretty strong female supports (and those roles are supporting, regardless of their gender, just like Gaius is a supporting dude, regardless of his gender). Their roles aren't bigger because they aren't who the story is about. Okay, they could have made the dragon female. I'll give you that. Plus, the ultimate villain is a ladyvillain. PLUS. Consider the fact that (including a dragon), there are really only seven main roles on this show, and then compare that to your "speaking roles" stats. The stats are most likely skewed based on the core cast members and their genders/races. I also think that making something Pass or Fail based solely on the gender of the topic of discussion is problematic. Especially in this show, where the aforementioned topic of discussion is most often the title character of the show. If Gwen and Morgana are talking about how awesome the riding is in Kent, why would they show it and why would it be relevant to the story of Merlin?

I do think, though, that with British television shows, I'd like to see some stats on nationality (English/Welsh/Irish/Scottish), too, because I do find that interesting as well.

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[identity profile] 2009-04-08 12:22 am (UTC)(link)
Interesting - this was the first I'd heard of the Bechdel test. Thanks for taking the trouble to do the stats.

Given that it was originally for movies, with more time to develop themes away from the main story, I think a show centered on a young man in a warrior culture passing in 6/13 eps is pretty good.

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[identity profile] 2009-04-08 12:45 am (UTC)(link)
Okies, a proper reply now that I'm over my glee at seeing Merlin meta. *g* Thanks for putting these numbers together!

Firstly, that last line. Oh, Gwen. Oh, sweetie. ♥

So I knew there was some fail, demographically, but seeing it spelled out -- whew. Before seeing this I would've guesstimated that overall, the show passes the Bechdel Test, but not even half the episodes do -- The Moment Of Truth was so ensemble-driven that I was also hoping it would pass. But alas, I reckon they were talking about men or to men the whole time. *sigh* (It's funny -- at first I was 'oh! oh, but Gwen did talk to Hunith for like half a second... o wait, that was about Arthur and the food. -_-')

Interestingly, there also doesn't seem to be a strong relationship between percentage of speaking women in an episode and whether that episode passes the Bechdel test -- and indeed, the one where women were least prominently shown passes -- but of course this is because the entire weight of the Bechdel test rests on Gwen and Morgana's shoulders. *pets them* I can't think of any other women who interact with each other apart from Sophia-Morgana (and that conversation definitely didn't pass *g*). Gwen and Morgana are really the only females on the show who don't exist to further a plot (arguably). Even Nimueh doesn't qualify, which is a shame -- I would've loved for her and Morgana to meet.

Still, Gwen and Morgana's overall dynamic gets a lot of points as far as I'm concerned; they're woefully underused (especially Gwen) but what we do get to see of them is generally awesome. Most of the women have actual depth and strength as characters. (It kind of sucks to have to lower standards to be happy, but the fail isn't as epic as I've seen in many other shows. It's definitely no Supernatural. *g*)

As for the race numbers, those are probably least surprising and considering the time period I guess it's good to see some PoCs at all. Off the top of my head I think Gwen and Lancelot are the only speaking PoCs to've made it through the first series, though. :/

[identity profile] 2009-04-08 01:25 am (UTC)(link)
This was really interesting to read. And your last point made me laugh ;)

I think Merlin - in comparison to many American shows I've watched - actually does quite well, considering, of course, that Merlin is the one who gets the majority of the screentime, and then of course the big important character of Prince Arthur. :)
I've been quite pleased with the way they've dealt with Gwen and Morgana so far - showing their strengths, weaknesses, abilities and so on - even though yeah, they could have had a fair bit more screentime.

[identity profile] 2009-04-08 01:56 am (UTC)(link)
See now the thing that really annoys me is the need to include non-white people into a series like Merlin, if we look at the facts, middle-century England is not very likely to have, if at all, any non-white citizens, and since I'm pretty sure this is before slavery, not really any. The need to include demographics that never really exists in such times actually shows how backwards our view on these issues actually are.

[identity profile] 2009-04-08 04:31 am (UTC)(link)
Actually, there were plenty of non-white cultures that existed and traded with Europe at the time, and thus (although possibly through various intermediaries), England. Slavery is not, in fact, the only way people of color would be historically present in society, despite the way they are overlooked in most Western accounts. As [ profile] woldy mentions below, Africa, Asia, and the Byzantine Empire cannot be discounted even by Eurocentric records, and since many coveted products- silks, dyes, spices, precious stones, etc.- originated from those areas, it's more than reasonable to assume that merchants and traders of color would have been present at the time. Also, keep in mind that history is written by the winners and the upper echelons of society, and since those were generally white people- it being Europe and all- there were whole classes and societies they would automatically have dismissed and overlooked in their Western superiority.

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[identity profile] 2009-04-08 01:58 am (UTC)(link)
This is so interesting! I think I've heard of the Bechdel test but it's nice to see it tested out like this. I need to see how other shows I watch :D
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[identity profile] 2009-04-08 03:03 am (UTC)(link)
It's just that it's also 100% likely that you are in fact Guinevere.

*snort* Love you for this table though!

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[personal profile] woldy 2009-04-08 04:00 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, good on you for doing this! I'd noticed the oddly high mortality rate for non-white men but it's good to have it confirmed & makes me wonder if we should write to the Beeb about that (especially in the context of news media which racialise contemporary violent crimes). Ditto the under-representation of women - isn't it odd how Morgana, Arthur & Gwen all lack mothers and yet they only feel the need to explain it in Arthur's case? Do the mothers simply evaporate from the story lest the TV producers have to deal with the terrifying issue of putting middle-aged women on screen?

In terms of the validity of the 'white' v 'nonwhite' division that some commenters raise, I don't know anything about constructions of race in Europe during the Medieval Era - most of the historical analysis I've read doesn't go back nearly that far - but I'm presuming the people making Merlin don't have that information either. Absent any evidence that they're striving for historical accuracy (and there's a good deal of evidence to the contrary there, not least the absurd inconsistency of the weaponry & armour) I think it's reasonable to discuss it in terms of how we understand race now, in which case the white v nonwhite distinction seems reasonable to me.

I'm amazed that a commenter above suggested there wouldn't have been any nonwhite people in the UK at that point - had they missed the documented pre-Medieval history of international trade including many spices, dyes and gemstones coming from Africa and Asia? And the dynamics with the Byzantine Empire (which would have been linked to the UK via major shipping routes through Venice, and a central part of the scholarly and religious community in Europe)? As far as I can tell, there's far more reason to believe that there were (what we would call) nonwhite people in the UK during the Medieval period than that King Arthur ever existed, but I guess some people will do their damnedest to whitewash history. Or is it the status of myth that peturbs them so very much - that the founding myth must be whitewashed regardless of the historical record?
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[identity profile] 2009-04-08 04:20 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah. Merlin's full of anachronisms, but Gwen isn't one of them. We can't even be sure in what century the show is supposed to take place, for one thing, so how anyone would know who's supposed to have been around during the series is beyond me. You certainly can't judge the time period by the castle or the tomatoes, for example. :P

The 'Middle Ages' spans like a thousand years, but even if we wanted to place the Arthur of legend way back in the fifth or sixth centuries, there were non-white people living in Britain at that time (not only were there open trade routes that would bring people in, but there were undoubtedly Roman soldiers from north Africa who would've wound up in Britain, too).

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[personal profile] oconel 2009-04-08 05:57 am (UTC)(link)
I'll come back later, but In the dragon's call three WF die: Lady Helen, the witch and the servant (and I think the three of them talk).

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[identity profile] 2009-04-08 09:11 am (UTC)(link)
I think that, if the writers decided to, they could pretty easily have every episode pass the Bechdel Test. The series is not from Merlin's point of view - there are a lot of scenes that don't have him in them. And therefore it would be possible to have a scene with Morgana and Gwen where they talked, even if they weren't involved in the main plot. And, okay, the temptation would be for it to be about Uther or Arthur or Tom, but it could be about Morgana's headaches or dresses or flowers or food or the kitchens or the court in general or annoying female courtiers. It could be a real way into developing the life of the court outside of Merlin's obliviousness.

They kill off women and non white men much more often than white men. This is, I think, an unconsidered side effect of a white main cast and a determination to include non white characters. They have got to be paying more attention to the way they do things, because it's not enough to write non white characters if you're going to be killing them off. They should a) have had Pellinore in more background scenes before he died b) get another recurring non white character now they've killed Tom. Or have Lance come back.

Are all the bad guys white? This would involve counting non speaking characters. Are there any non white guys in the plot to kill Uther?

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[identity profile] 2009-04-08 01:03 pm (UTC)(link)
I still haven't managed to DL and watch Merlin, but thanks for your link to the Bechdel test applied to new Doctor Who. 'twas very enlightening, though not actually encouraging.

[identity profile] 2009-04-08 09:31 pm (UTC)(link)
Super interesting, A. I haven't watched Merlin yet, but I'm always curious to see this kind of analysis. (And sad that it's so necessary.) M.
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[identity profile] 2009-04-09 01:17 am (UTC)(link)
Cool post. And the aside at the end is way cute. Thanks for putting this together and making it public.
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[identity profile] 2009-04-09 06:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Hi! ::waves hello::

I think you're counting Lancelot as a CoC? Can I ask why? I mean, yes, obviously the actor is a PoC but I don't remember any in-story indications that Lancelot's background was anything other than the European one usually attributed to him in traditional Arthuriana. I only ask because the small numbers means assuming he's a CoC alters the statistics significantly. I hope you don't mind my asking. You don't, of course, owe me any sort of answer. :-)

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[identity profile] 2009-04-10 12:20 am (UTC)(link)
I'm loving these statistics that have been popping up recently!

Hm, they really could do with more female characters, maybe a middle-aged female mentor figure or something? I love Gwen and Morgana, but they can't be the only significant women that are not villains. Speaking of villains, one of the things I love about the show is how they portray Uther in a very nuanced way, but they really should afford the same moral ambiguity to the female villains. I was so disappointed when Nimueh died and I felt that the audience was supposed to cheer on T_T

Those death stats really are a bit skeevy...

[identity profile] 2009-04-11 01:41 am (UTC)(link)
Hello! [ profile] dsudis and I just created a wiki called Characters Count ( for the purpose of archiving and sharing research like what you have here. Would you be willing to add your chart to the site, or let us add it for you (in case you don't feel like finagling with the backend, although it's actually quite streamlined and easy)? Although I'm not familiar with your canon (or with dsudis's, either) I think these charts in general are really interesting and and have the potential to be very useful.

Anyone with a PBwiki account can create or edit pages, so if you do upload your chart there's a chance it could be modified, but we'll make sure your original research is credited and referenced and that no one does anything obnoxious (it is the internet, after all). I hope you stop by and decide to hang around! We're totally open to anyone who wants to help and would definitely appreciate any comments or suggestions!

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[identity profile] 2009-04-11 09:03 pm (UTC)(link)
I appreciate you doing putting the numbers together (cause statistics are liek awesome liek whoa), however I'm a little mixed in re: to my reaction to the numbers based on my impressions while viewing the show, not necessarily hard numbers.

Not that hard numbers are *bad* - but I used to be in the survey business (ala Gallup and the competitors) and I know numbers from stats can read any way you want them too. ;)

At any rate - my impression while watching Merlin is more along the lines of ... say, my impression watching SPN. If you performed the Bechdel test on all of SPN - I bet they'd fail miserably most of the time. But my impression from the show is not that they don't respect females or POC (or even gay/straight) but rather the way the show has been established, it makes it difficult for all the Bechdel numbers to reach a passing grade (ie a show about 2 brothers - who are white - going around killing the supernatural. People are going to die of all nationalities and gender - but it depends on the show because Route 666 had a lot of African Americans die but I wouldn't call that episode a racial-fail, having one brother be of a different nationality would be odd with white parents unless mom had an affair or they went with an adoption storyline, etc..) When I watch the program - I'm not slapped in the face with the "dear gods, this show is just rife with gender and racial prejudice". Sure - Dean's a pig sometimes ;) But that's getting into char specifics when we're talking the show as a whole.

Likewise with Merlin - I don't watch the show and think to myself "ZOMG! This is the most prejudicial show ever and the sexism is just sickening!" I see strong female chars (Morgana, Nimueh, Gwen with a side of Hunith), I see POC who are of noble birth (which, say what you will about trade and global influences but I want to see numbers as to how many of that percentage of the population was nobility or royalty during the Middle Ages and compare that to the percentage of knights on the show who are POC), and I also know that the legends themselves (and the title/focus of the show) are focused on men (Arthur, Merlin, the knights of the Round Table) and women are underrepresented, are disgraced adultresses or miserably depressed when their man leaves them, are helpless damsels, etc... If the show had been entitled "Morgana: the Latina Seer" and the data above played out as it did - I would definitely be all "WTF?!" and up in arms and wondering just what the beeb was getting at in regards to equality.

Contrast that with say ... Gilmore Girls or Dawson's Creek or the one that constantly annoys me no matter how I love it - Stargate, either 'verse where the aliens are POC and only hook up with other aliens. Or get killed off or get beaten down. The heroes are white (and mostly male), the women are often MS superwomen that are a fanboy's wet dream or are weak and incompetent, and then top it off they're poorly written overall. Take the aliens out of an episode, and the show is so white-washed male it's blinding to view. -That's- what slaps me in the face, no matter what the numbers might say.

I guess I'll just wrap it up with a 'this really is nothing more than my gut impression' while watching TV ( ;) ) and I want to pick my equality battles where I perceive a threat to equality (and that doesn't make me any less an anti-prejudice feminist, I hope). And I know guts don't mean much in comparison to other things, but my gut takes in context where statistics might fail. And while Merlin receives a 'fail' in 7 of 13 epis, my impression is not that it fails, but rather it gives me 13 hours of slashy entertainment.

[identity profile] 2009-04-11 09:14 pm (UTC)(link)
(and that was totally long zomg sorry)
briar_pipe: Actress on a bike with cherry blossoms (gwen)

[personal profile] briar_pipe 2009-04-14 10:48 pm (UTC)(link)
Wait, wait, I have a 2/3 chance of dying if I'm a male ChoC? *boggles* That's... I knew this was a problem, but running the numbers makes it kind of terrifying. (Though maybe it would help if, you know, one of the four main male characters was played by a PoC. Since main characters have a little more protection.)

Also, this: If you're female but not white, you have a guaranteed 100% survival rate. It's just that it's also 100% likely that you are in fact Guinevere.


(And that makes me even more pissed that about once a week some idjit on imdb starts a new thread with a title like "Gweniveer is black?!?! omg!")
briar_pipe: Actress on a bike with cherry blossoms (gwen)

[personal profile] briar_pipe 2009-04-14 11:41 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, and I had a question - do you know if there's an equivalent of the Bechdel test for PoC? Because if there were, I can only think of scenes with Gwen and Tom or with Gwen and Lancelot, which would only let 3 eps pass.
Edited 2009-04-15 01:35 (UTC)

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