Women in Film – Does Hollywood Pass The Test? Not really

Although the feminist movement is making progress within business and the workplace, the film industry is still one heavily dominated by men.

When Viola Davis won her Emmy for best actress, I was shocked to find that she was the first black woman to do so, and the number of women who have won Best Director Oscars are well… one.

Looking further, female characters within films have also had a bit of a hard time. From Hitchcock’s female gaze to modern day sex-obsessed horrors, women are often represented as either dull or stupid victims, the protagonist’s goal or plaything, or catty, men-obsessed bitches.

Some time ago I stumbled across “The Bechdel Test” created by Alison Bechdel in her 1985 comic “The Rule” (from a strip called “Dykes to Watch Out For”- interesting), which sets out to determine the presence of women within films and whether they are characters of substance. It is essentially a litmus test to see if a film has well-rounded three-dimensional female characters.

To pass the “Bechdel Test”, a film must:

• Have two or more NAMED female characters…
• Who engage with and talk to each other …
• About something other than men

It might not seem like much to ask but when you start going through popular films. Just a few random examples…

The Social Network, Aladdin, Gravity, Toy Story, Avatar, Star Wars, Run Lola Run, Men In Black, The Big Lebowski, Shrek, District 9, Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, The Princess Bride, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Lord of The Rings… none of these pass.

Once you start playing this game yourself, suddenly you can’t seem to think of a single film that passes. So I guess that’s any Jane Austen adaption out the window… pretty much any war film is a big ol’ sausage fest… buddy movies- no… rom-coms- probably not…

I’m not trying to say every film should pass this test, of course it shouldn’t. Some of my favourite films are 12 Angry Men, The Great Escape and Die Hard, for crying out loud. It’s the sheer volume of films that don’t even come close, which is shocking.

So next time you’re scrolling through Netflix looking for a film to watch, play this game in your head and see how many you can find which pass the test.

Photo Courtesy of Eric Jamison