Have you heard of the Bechdel Test? The concept was created by Alison Bechdel in 1985 in a strip called The Rule in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For. It tests films on three criteria: it must have at least two women (named characters) talk to each other about something other than a man. It is a very low bar to pass but still more than 40% of US films fail it.
Passing the test doesn’t mean a film has well-developed female characters with interesting narrative arcs – famously American Hustle (2013) passes because of two women who only speak to each other briefly in one scene about nail polish – but failing it means that women are nowhere near the centre of the narrative. Often they are relegated to their relationship with men – mother, wife, girlfriend – and they never meet.
There are some expected failures, like 1917 (1919), Rambo (2008), John Wick (2014) and Ford v Ferrari (2019), but also too many that should do better, like Up (2009), Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), Green Book (2018), Yesterday (2019) and Avatar (2009). If you’re not sure if a film passes the test, have a look at the Bechdel Test Movie List website where you can search for movies (and add your own comments).
So back to my choice. I reviewed Roma here and it is one of the best films I have seen over the past few years. It’s exquisitely made, beautifully filmed and not only puts a woman at the centre of the story, she is an indigenous woman. You can watch it on Netflix although it’s better on a big screen and, if you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend it. It lost out on the Best Picture Oscar to the aforementioned Green Book, which has more problems than just failing the Bechdel test, and I think this says a lot about Hollywood, the Oscars and the mainstream film industry in general.
I’m really interested to see what others choose and would also love to know if you’ve ever heard of the Bechdel Test or thought about female representation in movies.
Posted as part of the 30-Day Fillums Challenge, created by me. If you want to see what’s coming up, have a look at my post here and feel free to join in by commenting each day with your own choice.
Coming Next: Day 23: Your favourite romcom