Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.