Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide

Can a Movie Fail the Bechdel Test and Still be Good?

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The Bechdel test is used to see if a movie had a modicum of feminist ideals. Basically to pass the test a movie has to have 1) two female characters, 2) that have a conversation 3) about something other than a man. Two correlation rules have recently arisen. 4) The characters have to have names, and 5) the conversations needs to be longer than sixty seconds.
The test was proposed by comic strip writer Alison Bechdel. Common sense would say that unless the movie is set in a men’s prison (Like Shawshank Redemption) or one guy on the moon with his clone (Moon) pretty much every movie should pass the test but in reality only about half of Hollywood movies do. And well let’s be honest that is pretty pathetic.

bechdel_test

The comic strip that started it all.

But does passing the test make a movie good, or not passing it make a movie bad? Well not really. None of the original Star Wars Trilogy passes the Bechdel test. Yet only Revenge of the Sith, of the prequels fails. You are going to be hard pressed to find a sci-fi fan who thinks that the prequels are anywhere near as good as the original trilogy. There are plenty of awesome movies that fail, Citizen Kane, The Unseal Suspects and Close Encounters of the Fourth kind all fail.

Padme

Is Padame abetter female role-model that her daughter Leia?

But passing doesn’t mean the film is good or even have strong female characters. Plenty of movies pass but do not portray women in a strong or good light. Only half the Pirates of the Caribbean movies pass but the infamous porno with a plot Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge does (I am guessing most girl on girl porn does). The misogynistic and terrible Manos Hands of Fate passes. Even the  stinker The Room passes.

jesie jane

Am I a morally reprehensible person putting a photograph of porn star Jessie Jane in an article about the Bechdel test?

A movie that passes the BT but degrades the females of the original source material is Whiteout. In the movie about thirty minutes in Marshal Steko and an extra named Rhonda discuss the Marshal’s trip out on the Antarctic ice. Carrie Stetko in the comic books is a genuine bad ass, but she is diluted in the movie creator, Greg Rucka has publicly said that “the only thing the White Out DVD is good for as a coaster for your drink.” In the movie Stetko an armed Marshal flees a man with an ice axe. (In the comic book at least she had reason to retreat because she forbidden by international law to carry a weapon in the South Pole,) but in the movie she seems to forget that she has a gun and just panics. And Lilly her  hard as nails MI-6 partner is changed into a male because movie executive didn’t think US audiences would see a movie that had to female leads.

carrie and lilly
Recently the movie Pacific Rim has raised some questions. It has a tough well written female charterer named Mako Mori, who has no other women to talk too. So a new test was created The Mako Mori test. A movie passes it is 1) Have at least one female character 2) Who gets her own narrative arc 3) that isn’t about supporting a man’s story. So there are movies out there that pass the BT but fail the MMT.

Mako_Mori

Can you pass the Mako Mori test?

Kelly Sue Deconnick proposed the “Sexy Lamp test” which is if your female characters can be replaced with a sexy lamp, you need another draft. This made me think of Christmas Story, which fails the BT. But you know what if any of your characters can be replaced with appliances well maybe it’s re-write time.

christmas-leg-lamp

I honestly though that the lamp was an under rated charterer in the Christmas Story.

Now one of my pet peeves is when a writer has a male and female characters have sex for no reason. I am in the same boat when people write female dialogue so a movie will pass the Bechdel test. The conversations between two women like everything in a good movie should flow and seem natural.
In the end the Bechdel is not about movies as it is about society. It shining a light that on the issue that there are not enough strong female characters in movies. Sure a movie can be great and fail and crappy and pass, but in the end it not about the movies it about the movie makers and the audiences. I am not saying boycott movies that don’t pass the BT I am saying why would you make anything now a days that fails.

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14 comments on “Can a Movie Fail the Bechdel Test and Still be Good?

  1. Brent Stypczynski
    May 7, 2015

    The irony is that the Bechdel Test was never meant to be seriously applied to any movie or show. It was intended (according to Bechdel) as a joke, perhaps somewhat satiric, to draw attention to an issue of representation but not to be used as an actual test.

    • davekheath
      May 7, 2015

      I think as social criticism it works the best.

  2. Brian Bixby
    May 7, 2015

    Having read the comics beforehand, I, too, was disappointed with “Whiteout.”

    Part of the problem is the dominance of certain genres: action-adventure is seen as “male,” romance movies involve women talking about men (unless the romance is gay/lesbian, or, as you point out, porn, but those are another kettle of fish), and the more unimaginative horror movies are more interested in having their female characters have sex and get killed than in developing characters.

    • davekheath
      May 7, 2015

      That is a sad truth. But there are god writers like Greg Rucka and Gail Simone who do some incredible things with female characters.

    • J.Gi Federizo
      May 8, 2015

      I never knew Whiteout was originally a comicbook. That said, same observation here regarding women in horror flicks.

      • davekheath
        May 12, 2015

        White Out and White Out II Melt are diffidently worth picking up in Graphic Novel form

      • J.Gi Federizo
        May 12, 2015

        Must be. I’ll take your word for it. I do have a copy of the first movie (it’s a second-hand copy and was on sale for such a cheap price so I bought it)

  3. Allie P.
    May 7, 2015

    I would say that passing the Bechdel test in no way guarantees that a movie will be good, especially if it was obvious that a specific piece of dialogue was written or ‘friendly’ character was only introduced just to pass the BT and not to actually, you know, move the plot along. I am a much bigger fan of the MMT, but even so, I don’t necessarily need a film to pass either test to consider it good. I just may not relate to any of the characters.

  4. J.Gi Federizo
    May 8, 2015

    First time I heard about BT, or the MMT, or even the SLT, but you sharing info is very much appreciated 🙂

  5. aaforringer
    May 11, 2015

    Good stuff, although I think the BT is BS.

    Take the newest Avengers movie would fail, the only significant conversation Black Widow has with another female character is about a baby, so I am pretty sure most feminist would fail the movie on that factor, but given her background it takes on huge significance.

    But if it were not for Black Widow and the Scarlet Witch the movie would lose a lot of heart. The conversation that Wanda and Clint had was not about a man or a relationship, but fighting your fear, which she does and thus showing her strength not as a woman but as a human being.

    • davekheath
      May 12, 2015

      Interesting though, I haven’t seen Age of Ultron yet, I told my niece and nephew I would take them Sunday. But yeah why can’t a conversation between a man and a woman not be just as feminist and supporting as one between two women.

  6. Lucas Hollands
    March 22, 2017

    “Oh my god becky, look at her butt” passes the Bechdel test

    • davekheath
      March 23, 2017

      Yes it does. I bet Sir Mix A Lot’s mother is so proud. LOL.

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