The Bechdel test assesses the gender representation in film, particularly concerning women. It evaluates the activeness of women on screen, beyond mere appearance. The test requires that a movie should feature at least two women at some point.
Additionally, the pair should talk to each other about topics other than the male gender to pass the test. Another variation further suggests that these women should not be nameless.
These women should be integral to the story arc and have their own character development arcs. The characters should be defined and have a role in the movie.
The idea traces back to 1985 and cartoonist Alison Bechdel. What began as a cheeky dig at the industry and the lack of female representation, has grown into a massive metric for film worthiness and success over the years. At a time when women were objectified in film, the graphic novelist joked about the concept in her comic strip, The Rule.
Two female characters were talking about going to the movies. One quipped about how she only goes to see movies that have two women talking about issues other than a man.
The tongue-in-cheek comment however turned a lot more heads than expected. The internet began to rely upon it as a litmus test for gender equality. Women were often thrown on screen simply to balance the numbers. However, the depth of their stories was questionable.
The test assesses this depth and the role women play in a film. Bechdel credited her friend Liz Wallace as the inspiration behind the idea. Consequently, it’s quite common for the test to go by the name Bechdel-Wallace test as well. Other popular sobriquets include the Mo Movie Measure and Bechdel’s law/rule.
It’s been more than 35 years since Bechdel’s law become famous. However, statistics indicate that only half of the movies produced each year pass the test.
We focus on this category today as we highlight two remarkable movies that lead the way for gender equality.
The Star Wars franchise is not exactly known for being female-friendly. It wasn’t until The Force Awakens when women began to take on more serious responsibilities in the cinematic universe. Before that though, most of its antagonists and protagonists were male leads.
Women, on the other hand, served nothing more than playing the objectified, damsel in distress. Remember the gold-bikini-strutting Princess Leia who needed rescuing?
My point exactly.
Aside from Leia, it was even hard to pinpoint a female character in a movie that explored the far reaches of space.
Fortunately, Star Wars has righted its wrongs with modern sequels such as TFA, and for our case of focus today, The Last Jedi. The latter is set after the happenings of The Force Awakens. Female apprentice and protagonist Rey strives to learn the ways of the Force from the last remaining Jedi, Luke Skywalker.
Her character development is comprehensive. The makers put a lot of thought into the character, allowing her to stand out. She doesn’t feel like a means to balance the gender equality scale. She’s not just a female version of a warrior archetype.
There’s a lot more to her. It might not have lived to the expectations of some fans, but The Last Jedi remains a decent movie with more good than bad.
The Bechdel test requires two female characters to appear on film. There are several in The Last Jedi. They include Captain Phasma, who is in charge of a faction of stormtroopers, and resistance members Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo and Rose Tic.
Not forgetting the pirate Maz Kanata as well, a resistance ally. The two that play the most active female roles include Rey and Princess Leia.
The law also mandates that two women should talk to each other about other topics beyond men. Princess Lei and Rey discuss a variety of issues, mostly revolving around the resistance. The other women in the plot also converse about more than just relationship trouble.
Rose, Amilyn, and Lei take on strong female roles, offering leadership or service to what’s left of the resistance. Sure, most of the women are spread out, but they do talk. For instance, Amilyn and Lei regularly discuss the war.
DC’s 2017 superhero success Wonder Woman passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. It is lighting up the way for others to follow. In fact, you could argue that the female representation threatens to snuff out the male presence in the film.
It’s understandable why the movie bests the Bechdel test.
The plot revolves around an ancient tribe of women, called the Amazon, that lives on an invisible island away from the “world of men.” You’ll be hard placed to find any scene where women talk about men. The Amazon sisters spend their time training, hunting, preparing for a prophesied battle, and guarding an ancient treasure.
Wonder Woman is also a breath of fresh air in terms of female characters getting the lead role in superhero movies. The concept of female super heroines is nothing new. However, it’s quite rare for them to take center stage.
They usually take on more supporting roles, playing the sidekick or the hero’s love interest. Wonder Woman changes the narrative, telling the story of a superhero that gives Superman a run for his money.
In terms of how it passes, positive talking points are abundant. The primary protagonist is a female character, delving into a war that’s mostly fought by men. Prominent roles and close associations of Diana are mostly female.
They include Diana’s Aunt Antiope, who constantly offers guidance to her young niece. Antiope is the general of the Amazon army and a mentor to Diana. Her mother Queen Hippolyta, is a wise ruler weary of the dangers of the outside world. She aims to make her daughter a worthy successor to the throne.
The women in the plot are always talking about important issues. They are not objectified, with almost every female character having a hand in the outcome of the conflict. Female characters are empowered in the film.
Even minor characters like Steve’s secretary Etta, have a considerable part to play. Etta befriends Diana and regularly helps her out with war strategies. Wonder Woman not only fulfills the Bechdel rule but also goes above and beyond.
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