QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded

Bechdel Test

[responding to complaints that "The Bechdel Test" isn't useful for finding "interesting" or "enjoyable" movies, made by a retired Navy guy]

The test isn't made for you. It was a criteria a lesbian (in a comic strip) was using to decide if she would be willing to watch the movie. If watching men do manly stuff is a bucket of cold water, this can warn you away.

It's not a good metric for determining if a movie is feminist or not. The Bling Ring passes both Bechdel and reverse Bechdel, and is very much a film about the females. But the female characters in it are all exceedingly shallow and bad role models.

Where Bechdel is most useful, I think, is talking about a set of movies. Only one of the eight Harry Potter movies meets it (or so I've seen claimed, I haven't tried to figure out which one). Is that unexpected given the general outline of "Boy grows up to fight the man who killed his parents?" No. Just that outline says it is likely to be a very male centric film.

Quoting from a 2010 piece by a movie reviewer that I like (Mick LaSalle): You could say that the Bechdel test points up that women's movies are ghettoized, in that they are generally depictions of internal life, about romance, about sex, about relationships. The Bechdel test shows how few films there are that fit into the external life category. It doesn't necessarily follow that films in which women sit around talking about business, politics or crime would be any better as women's films. It is however a curious and telling thing that these films don't seem to exist.

Ultimately, of course, the only way to really gauge the presence of women in film is to take a year at random and go through every single film released. For example, in 2001, there were only 19 films out of 400 American movies made that had a woman as the main character. 19 out of 400, and some of those movies were dumb teen comedies, and one was GLITTER with Mariah Carey. Just for comparison, France released 200 films that year. 75 had a woman as the main character, and I'm not even counting silly movies like PEOPLE IN SWIMSUITS ARE NOT NECESSARILY SHALLOW, with Isabelle Gelinas and Agnes Soral. — Mick LaSalle

Final thought: comic that started the test here