There is a test out there that seems to be impossible for many to figure out.
For decades hundreds have failed to pass it. Even some of the greatest and most creative minds in all of the media haven’t found a way to score well on it. What is this seemingly difficult assessment? The Bechdel test.
Developed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 the test is an indicator of the sexism and gender inequality still evident in many movies today. What are the requirements to pass?
The movie must:
- Have two named women (ok not too hard)
- Who talk to each other about anything (it could be about almost anything, seriously toe fungus, what salad you had today, etc.)
- …Except about men (This seems to be where movies get stuck)
While this doesn’t seem like a difficult feat, the majority of movies don’t pass. Need proof? Look no further than this year’s Oscar nominations for Best Film. Of the eight films nominated, only four passed the Bechdel test (Brooklyn, Mad Max, Room and Spotlight). And even Spotlight was a very questionable pass. There was only one conversation where two women spoke, and it is up to you to decide whether or not the title “Sacha’s Grandmother” counts as a named character.
Why did the others fail? Either they really didn’t have any leading female characters or didn’t feel those women should have any other role than to support the men in the movie (looking right at you The Big Short).
The Bechdel test reveals not only how rare fully developed female characters are in today’s top movies, but also how few female relationships there are on screen. It seems as if the only movies where women are allowed to talk to each other are in romantic comedies, and even some of those don’t pass because all the conversations are about the male romantic interest.
Why is it such a challenge for movies to pass the test? Maybe because so few of the big budget movies are written by women. Looking at this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture, only one is written by a woman, Room by Phyllis Nagy. No wonder it’s so difficult for movies to depict the experiences of women, there are no women on the writing teams for top movies.
Only four of the 10 films nominated for screenwriting, both adapted and original, had female screenwriters. These four films are Carol, Room, Inside Out and Straight Outta Compton.
It is time for the media industry to finally start bringing more realistic and fully developed female relationships to the big screen, beyond just supporting roles for men. The only way to do this is by expanding the number of women in an industry known for its boy’s club. It’s impossible to write movies about women if there are no women in the writer’s room.
P.S. Extra challenge for new writers? The Mako-Mori test. The movie needs
- A female character,
- Who gets her own narrative arc,
- That is not supporting a man’s story.