Feminism and Hollywood have always had a faint relationship, but this has never gained as much public attention as recently. Despite various major celebrities such as Emma Watson, Lena Dunham and Patricia Arquette repeatedly speaking out about the gender wage gap between male and female actors and gender typecasting, it’s striking to see how a vast majority of films still fails to represent the experience of women and how most parts are still written by men.
The Bechdel test is a short test that can be applied to films to see if women are represented and if their roles encompass more than only existing in relation to their male counterparts. The test was introduced as a joke by Alison Bechdel in her 1985 comic Dykes to Watch Out For and is based on three simple principles:
- A film should have at least two named female characters
- Who talk to each other
- About something other than a man
It’s surprising to see the amount of films that actually fail these three criteria, including classics such as Lord of the Rings, Batman: The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 and 3, and Tomb Raider. Data publishing site Silk has recently shown that the Bechdel “pass rate” for films was only 55.4% in 2014, a drop of 12% compared to the previous year – and a low score in general if you ask me.
The test can certainly be criticised for failing to say anything about how well-explored the female narratives are within a film or whether they convey a feminist message or not. However, it’s certainly one of the most useful tools to measure the representation of women in film and that’s a good way to start.
Below you’ll find 3 kick-ass movies with female leads that do pass the test and focus on female psyches, friendships and rivalries like few other films do. Let us know in the comments below which films you think should be added to the list.
For a more in-depth explanation of the Bechdel test, check this video from feministfrequency.com:
Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan (2010)
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer who competes for the lead role in “Swan Lake”. She is slowly pushed to a breaking point as the story intensifies under pressure of her controlling mother, her manipulative choreographer and rival dancer Lily.
How the film passes the test: More than one female character? Check! Who converse with one another? Yes. Who can talk about something other than men? Should only be normal. Nina is often seen discussing her career with her mother and her fellow dancers. In fact, it is hard to point out a conversation between any of the male characters about something other than women. Black Swan explores Nina’s growing anxiety as a result of trying to live up to the expectations that others have of her – expectations that are not only imposed upon her by the male character, but also by her mother and by her own person. The film brilliantly explores Nina’s shocking breakdown as she delves deeper into her inner dark side and all the tensions that come with it.