This recently came up again in a writers’ group I participate in. The Bechdel Test. For those of you who don’t know, the Bechdel Test was introduced by Alison Bechdel’s comic strip and serves to point out gender inequality in film.
To pass the Bechdel Test a movie must have:
1) At least two female characters…
2) who talk to each other…
3) about something other than a man.
Finding films which pass this test is harder than one might realize and even many “chick flicks” and women-centric films fall woefully short. Of course there’s no hope for most of my favorite fandom films, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, mostly because someone somewhere along the line decreed that action/adventure/fantasy/sci-fi films only need ONE token lady and maybe a mother figure. But that’s it people!! Otherwise they’ll start talking about periods and kittens, that there’s no place for that crap in Middle Earth!
The reason for this odd viewpoint, the studios, producers and screenwriting professors cry, is because the audience doesn’t want to watch women. The “audience” is presumably a bunch of 18-35 year old white males who don’t want to hear women talk in real lyfe much less women in their entertainment, much much less women of color in their entertainment.
Show of hands: who thinks this is horribly underestimating the average movie goer in the year 2014? This is simply not the world we live in any longer and Hollywood needs to catch up. At the Oscars this year, three out of the eight Best Picture nominees passed the Bechdel Test. There’s definitely a problem here. And the kicker is that movies which pass the test actually have a better return on investment than those that fail! (source: link)
But is the Bechdel Test the way to solve it? I’d say it’s a good start but just passing the test doesn’t make it a victory for gender inequality. It’s a two dimensional, and like any good plot line, the picture needs to be well rounded. So simply chucking another token female character into the mix and getting her to talk about purses or shoes with the other female character isn’t going to cut it. Just passing the test isn’t enough. Think about it, American Hustle passes, Gravity doesn’t. Not that I want to get into an argument about the characterization of Sandra Bullock’s character and feminism, but at least she was the protagonist and an astronaut. (We’ve talked about this before, yes?)
Personally, I like the Mako Mori Test which is passed if a movie has:
a) at least one female character
b) who gets her own narrative arc
c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.
This idea came about after Pacific Rim was deemed to have failed the Bechdel test, but supporters of the character Mako Mori had other things to say. (Daily Dot)
But again, this by itself does not mean the film is “feminist” (whatever that means) or good or that women will automatically flock to it.
Let’s use these tests not as the be-all-end-all of what films should look like, but as a bare minimum starting point as we move closer to gender equality.