Bechdel Test

Feminist Frequency applies the Bechdel Test to this year’s Oscar nominated films. In order to pass the Bechdel Test, a film must meet two simple dimensions:

  • The film must to have at least two women characters who have names
  • and these women must talk to each other about something other than a man.

Out of the nine films nominated, only two pass the test: The Descendents (barely) and The Help. The latter is centred around women characters, but as Feminist Frequency points out, The Help is “problematic” in its portrayal of race relations in America. The Bechdel Test doesn’t help to identify the quality of a film or whether it is a feminist plot – it simply illustrates an entrenched pattern in Hollywood: ‘the lack of relevant and meaningful female roles as a larger pattern in the film industry as a whole’.
A variation of the test can be applied to the representation of non-white people in film:

  • The film must to have at least two non-white characters who have names
  • and these non-white characters must talk to each other about something other than a white character.

Feminist Frequency points out that even in The Help, despite its narrative focus on the civil rights movement, the non-white characters are almost exclusively talking to or about white people throughout the movie. I’ve written about the sidelining of non-white characters in my other blog and I have a piece coming out about non-white women in film (should be out later today or tomorrow). The Bechdel Test and its variations offer an explicit and simple way to show how film narratives normalise the dominance of white heterosexual men. Many people do not really notice that even though women, non-white people and other minorities inhabit the world of film, their existence is superfluous at best.

The next time you watch a flick, have a go at applying the Bechdel Test to women characters, or try the non-white character test, and see how you go.

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