Popular Cinema and the Bechdel Test

According to the Bechdel Test, popularized in 1985 by Alison Bechdel, in order for a film to be “feminist” two female characters must talk to each about something about than a male character. This does not seem like difficult criteria to meet, however, many Hollywood blockbusters fail abysmally. You might have heard of this test before, or you might not have, so let’s look at a few films that have come out in the past year.

Moana passes. Batman vs. Superman does not. You might be saying “well Moana is targeted at young girls while Batman vs. Superman is a superhero movie”. I’ll indulge this idea for a moment so here’s another example

Captain America: Civil War passes. The Secret Life of Pets does not.

The Bechdel Test is such a low bar, that one cannot say with certainty what genres of films are going to pass it because it seems that every genre fails equally. Is the test perfect? Absolutely not. It’s really not that great at all. It doesn’t take into account a lot of factors that go into how films represent gender BUT what it does do is highlight how little screen time and dialogue female characters often get and that’s a giant problem.

The Bechdel Test is the bare minimum for a film, and the fact that so many cannot manage to meet it says a lot about the film industry and what we’re looking for when we see a movie. I don’t dislike male protagonists, but when it’s all I see it gets difficult to even want to watch wide release films anymore. I, like many people, want to see myself in characters in a film, but it gets tiring to always be a damsel in distress or a woman who seems to only exist for male fantasies.

Women are 50% of the population. We should have more representation in Hollywood. That’s just the truth. I’m not even talking about production positions right now (that’s a whole ‘nother thing and oh boy), I’m talking speaking characters in films that are not that difficult to write, but then again, maybe it is difficult. Based on what we see now, you’d think it was physically impossible for a male writer to write a decent female character and that hurts somewhat.

Like I said, the Bechdel Test isn’t perfect, but it’s something we’re still failing at, and in 2017 we need to be doing better.


Natalie RobertsComment