A Surprising Way to Think About Movies

  • Posted on: 1 June 2016
  • By: lyanabu

Alison Bechdel, The RuleAre you a movie fan? There are so many movies out there, how do you decide which movies to see?

Lately, the Bechdel Test has been gaining attention as a way to think about movies. It’s simply a way to assess movies but it raises gender balance issues.

What is the Bechdel Test?

It started out as a cartoon strip in series called “Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel, back in 1985.

In this particular strip, two women are walking down the street. They pass a theater and one says, "Wanna see a movie and get popcorn?"

The other woman says, "Well, I dunno… I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements. One, it has to have at least two women in it… who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.”

The first woman says, "Pretty strict, but a good idea."

You just don’t think about what’s missing

Only two women talking to each other at some point in the whole movie? You would think it’s a pretty low bar. But you’d be surprised at how many films, including extremely popular films, do not meet this criteria.

In fact, 38% of the movies made in 2015 did not pass the Bechdel Test.

You can visit bechdeltest.com and see whether any particular movie passes the test.

Why is this? Or maybe a better question is, Whose stories are being told? and Who decides which stories to tell?

In 2014, only 15% of films had female directors, and 20% had female writers, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. But among the 200 highest-grossing movies that were written by all-female writers, all of them passed the test.

This is not to say that if the movie passes the test it's good, or if it doesn't pass it's bad. It is not a litmus test for feminist values. The point is not that any particular film must have women in it. All it says is, is there even a modicum of gender balance?

Women make up 49% of the world's population. Our stories and our voices should be heard.

Why is this important?

According to the U.S. Commerce department, the movie export business is worth over $14 billion. Our values get promoted along with our entertainment. Worldwide, we stand for freedom, equality, and diversity.

It’s not just the money

Movies which have diverse casts do better at the box office. Between 1990 to 2013, the movies listed on the bechdeltest.com database which passed the Bechdel Test had a better return on investment than ones that did not pass, according to fivethirtyeight.com.

We’re closer than we ever have to the first female President. In a few years, the first black woman will be represented on the $20 bill. You may very well be paying for your movie ticket with a Harriet Tubman; will that movie actually have two women having a conversation in it?

I hope so. 

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