Taking Aim At Gender Bias In Movies w/ The Bechdel Test. How Would It Work w/ Race?

by Tambay A. Obenson, Shadow and Act
Does your film pass the Bechdel Test?

Imagine if the test caught on here in the USA. Theaters in Sweden have adopted the test as a new way to highlight gender bias in cinema. In short, if your movie passes the Bechdel test, it gets a passing grade.

While it’s not law in Sweden, theaters there are using it to draw attention to how few movies fully incorporate rich, complex female characters in their narratives, which could affect box office for some films. And it’s an initiative that’s been well-received by filmgoers in the country. Even the state-funded Swedish Film Institute supports it, as well as Scandinavian cable TV channel Viasat Film, who says it’ll start using the ratings in its film reviews. And by all accounts, it’s something that’s starting to catch on, with promoting gender equality in cinema, the goal.

The Bechdel test got its name from American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who introduced the concept in her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985.

To pass the test, each film must meet the following 3 criteria:
1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it…
2. … Who talk to each other…
3. … About something besides a man

In watching the below explanation of the test, I thought, about our continuous discussions on defining black film, or identifying a black film aesthetic. And I tried to come up with a similar kind of test that we could use to measure similar *racial* inequalities in every film. But I couldn’t so simplistically narrow it down to just 3 questions, as in the Bechdel test.

If we followed its lead, ours would look something like this:

1. Are there two or more black characters with names in the film?
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. If they talk to each other, do they talk about something other than XXXX?

What would that “XXXX” be? Again, I don’t think 3 questions would suffice. We’d need to go even broader, because, while there are films that satisfy the first 2 criteria, there isn’t some readily identifiable subject that’s discussed consistently, widely, solely between black characters in cinema is there? Maybe race, or “blackness,” or something related to being black, since that’s the one thing the characters would have in common.

And what would we call the test? And if we applied this test to movies (maybe specifically Hollywood movies), would we be surprised by the outcome?

Watch the below video explanation first, and share your thoughts in the comments section, if you have any:


About Winter Film Awards

Winter Film Awards (WFA) is a volunteer-run and operated celebration of the diversity of local and international film-making. Our Mission is to recognize excellence in cinema and to promote learning and artistic expression for people at all stages of their artistic careers with a focus on nurturing emerging filmmakers and helping them gain recognition and contacts to break into this difficult industry. We pride ourselves on our diverse collection of Festival selections, allowing our audience to enjoy films they normally wouldn’t think to seek out. WFA is a minority- and women-owned registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Posted on November 13, 2013, in Diversity in Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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