No study of female representation in media is complete without the Bechdel Test. Advocacy for diversity in every field is increasing, as it should. Yet, few understand the need for it in movies. Everybody loves movies, they tell stories that leave us crying, laughing, and always longing for more. They’re a different kind of comfort food. There’s a movie about anything you could name. But, we see a pattern in most of them. A code of conduct that a majority of filmmakers follow.
The Bechdel Test created by Allison Bechdel in 1985 is a test of the representation of women in fiction. Although it can be used to analyze books as well, its original focus was cinema when it was introduced in the form of a comic strip by Bechdel who credited the idea to her friend Liz Wallace and the writings of Virginia Woolf. There are three criteria a work of fiction must include to pass the Bechdel Test:
Do you see how little the test asks for? Note the words ‘at least two named women’ and ‘anything besides a man’. On first reading this, I thought; How hard could it be? We’re in the 21st century! I’m sure 80% of the movies I’ve seen easily pass it. You will be surprised at the number of movies you consider ‘hits’ and ‘blockbusters’ which barely pass the test.
Take a look at the numbers- a report shows that just 33.1 percent of speaking roles in 2018’s top-grossing films. We see an improvement in the 2019 numbers where 45 to 54.9 percent of all speaking roles were women. So, we have two or more women who talk to each other- you’re almost there just one more step and your movie has passed the test. But here’s where most films fail. According to the criteria, these women must have at least one conversation (this conversation only has to happen once for a film to pass) about something, anything besides a man. It leaves so much to the imagination!
A BBC Analysis of the Oscars revealed that fewer than half of the 89 films named best picture passed the test. Why is this the case? Why are filmmakers still struggling to fulfill the most minimal criteria? Besides, if the largest and most influential film industry in the world can’t implement the Bechdel Test in its award-winning movies, how should we expect the rest of the world to follow?
I think the most common misconception people have of the Bechdel Test is that it asks for ‘feminist’ and women-centric movies. But the plot of a movie does not have to revolve around the conversation of its characters. A movie needs to have some reality to it, so why doesn’t the scene cut to the female supporting characters talking about the news, or their favorite show, or even the game last night? Instead of how cute that guy is, should I text him? Women have other things to talk about too, you know.
When it comes to having two named female characters, I think a well-rounded personality is all we’re asking for. Someone who isn’t just defined by that one line they said or the plot of the movie.
Now I’m not saying all films should have the same characters, the same storyline. But a little representation wouldn’t hurt. Diversity makes this world stronger, it’s the sundae and the rest is the cherry on top. There are some great movies out there made by some talented people, but their uniqueness gives them that wow-factor. Although its criteria seem quite normal, the Bechdel Test asks for something different in today’s film industry. I think it’s time we see that change!
Which of the movies you’ve seen pass the Bechdel Test?
P. S- If you’d like the names of some movies which pass the test I’ve included a link under sources.
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