Does Your Favorite Movie Pass the Bechdel Test?

by Kelly Ann McGuinness
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When picking a movie there are a lot of things to consider. What kind of movie do you want to watch? How long is it? What actors are in the movie? Who directed it? And so on and so forth. When picking your movie you should also ask the question “Does it pass the Bechdel test?”

What is it?

The Bechdel test is a test coined by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her 1985 comic strip “The Rule.” In this strip, we see two women who want to see a movie, but none of the ones in theatres pass the Bechdel test. This test is something to ask about the movie you are about to consume. The rules of the Bechdel Test come in the form of 3 questions, the movie must answer “Yes” to each of these questions.

The Bechdel test’s 3 questions

1. Are there two women in it?

Two of the named characters that appear have to be women.

2. Do two women talk to each other?

We must see two of the named women talk to one another.

3. Is the conversation that the women have about something other than a man?

The weather, the economy, work, anything that does not revolve around a man.

Seems simple?

This test is pretty straightforward. Yet, you would be surprised how many popular movies do not pass. For example, these recent films do not pass the test:

  • A Marriage Story
  • Uncut Gems
  • A Quiet Place
  • Love, Simon
  • Shrek
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Some Statistics

Let’s take a look at the Oscars. Only 5 women have ever been nominated for Best Director, only 1 woman has won, all of these women were white.

Now what The Bechdel Test does not address is the lack of representation off-screen. Or the fact that the majority of these women are white. According to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film:

“Women comprised 20% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 100 grossing films in 2019, up from 16% in 2018.  Women working in these roles on the top 250 grossing films experienced a slight increase from 20% in 2018 to 21% in 2019.”

Dr. Martha Lauzen, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film

There are not enough women being hired in Hollywood. So now that we know a little more about the makeup of off-screen, let’s look at on. The following are statistics of women onscreen based off of the Top-100 grossing films of 2019.

“Females accounted for 37% of major characters.
Females comprised 34% of all speaking characters.
Overall, audiences were almost twice as likely to see male characters as female characters.”

“68% of all female characters with speaking roles were White, 20% were Black, 5% were Latina, 7% were Asian, and 1% were of some other race or ethnicity.”

Women and Hollywood

While these numbers have increased over the years, women are still in the minority. In addition, there is an incredible lack of women of color on screen. The fact that this test was created in the 80s and still has an impact today proves we have a long way to go. This test is requires the bare minimum of representation for women on screen.

How Can You Use The Bechdel Test?

Now, this test is not a way to judge the quality of the movie. It is rather away to judge any female presence (or lack thereof) in a movie. The Bechdel Test helps bring to light the disproportionate representation of women on-screen in the film industry. There are movies I enjoy that do no pass this test, such as the original Star Wars trilogy. However, it is important to think and have conversations about why these movies do not pass. Having conversations, and looking at films with the knowledge of this test will help bring to light the issue of sexism in Hollywood in your own communities.

Our streams and purchases are a part of our buying power, we all play a part in what and who shapes Hollywood. So next time you are looking to watch a movie, try to make sure it passes the Bechdel test. The website bechdeltest.com is a great resource to see what movies do and do not pass.


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