You’d think that a simple guide like the Bechdel test, would help movie studios create more interesting and well written female characters. Given how simple the test sounds, it’d seems like a no brainer. In a perfect world yes; but here in reality this isn’t the case.
For those who don’t know, the Bechdel test (named after comic writer Alison Bechdal) is a simple three-step program used to see if a film represents women well; in order to promote more complex female characters. And it’s even been used in countries like Sweden, in the same way as the PG rating is being used in places like here in England. Said test has been promoted by many feminist, female activist and rights groups.
Here the three steps.
1) Your film must have at least two female characters.
2) Said characters will need to speak with each other at some point.
3) Their conversation must be about something other than a man.
So what exactly is the issue here? Well firstly is how unclear the test is with these factors. It doesn’t state whether these characters would need to be important to the plot; a villain, supporting roles or the protagonist. Nor does it state that the conversation needs to be a plot point, a twist reveal, or even relevant to the plot at all. The Unusual Suspect on YouTube mentioned this in his ‘ten things Star Wars episodes 4-6 did wrong’ video. In which he stated that episode two Attack of the Clones passed the test; with an example being how Padme (the love interest of the lead character Anakin Skywalker) spoke with the current queen of the planet Naboo…and then deducted said perfect three out of three score after joking about how that scene was “so short” he wouldn’t count it.
In theory, it only takes a one minute scene between two irrelevant characters to gain your film the feminist seal of approval.
Secondly is how unfair the thing is. This is for multiple reasons; such as films and shows having too few female characters, or just have a mostly male cast. Many films such as Goodfellas, 2001, Citizen Kane and Inception failing the test for that reason. Even if a film features a handful of women in their cast, it means nothing as they’re still able to fail if said characters don’t speak with each other. Some examples include: Avatar, The Social Network and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Even films and TV shows with female leads have been known to fail the test. Examples being Sex in the City, as the characters talk about their relationships with male characters…..did I forget to mention you would need to get a full three out of three mark to pass.
So basically it doesn’t matter how well written your female character is, if the film gets a two out of three; your movie is considered as sexist for a being unrepresentative of women. Let’s look at examples of movies that proof what I’m talking about. Star Wars Episode five features the well written character of Princess Leela; fails. Terminator two features Sarah Connor another good female character; failed. Captain America one and two feature Peggy Carter and Black Widow; two highly positive feminist characters; and neither film passed the test.
In fact while we’re talking about the Marvel films; twelve films in the current line up of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and only three of films passed. Those being Thor, Thor the Dark World and Iron Man 3.
You see what movie studios have to work with here? So you’re probably asking: What films have passed the Bechdel test? Well here are some examples: Attack of the 50 Cheerleader, Debbie Does Dallas, The Human Centipede, 50 Shades of Grey, Bratz: The Movie and (hear me out) Two Girls One Cup……you laugh but think about it. It features two women (obviously) they both interact with other, and they speak about something other than a man; don’t ask what they discuss about, because if you’ve been living under a rock for so long you haven’t heard about this video…..it’s probably a rock worth living under.
So what have we learned? Mainly how filling in three check boxes doesn’t make your movie a milestone in feminist media, mainly due to most films fail by playing the rigged rules of a very flawed game. While supporters of the test like to mention how good films like Frozen and Mad Max Fury Road have passed; it doesn’t mean anything when The Room (said to be one of the worst films ever made) also passes the same test for literally (again literally) the same reasons. And as someone who supports good and well written female characters like: Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, Lisa Simpson, Donna Noble and many others; all I really ask is one of two things. One figure out a better way to create more feminist positive characters. Or two just get rid of this rigged system. As much as movie studios like to think that the right cast, visual effects and brand name equals profit; art can’t be created with maths in the same way a positive role model for women can be created with an instruction guide.
All female characters are different, and are beloved by the fans of their franchises for different reasons; and a simple step by step guide won’t reflect that in any way. And I feel that movie writers and directors should create what characters they want; and let the audience judge them as they see fit. And if you feel that the test is effective in some way, I really want to know because I just can’t see it.
Thank you for your time.