Let’s Hear It for the Girls

We put movies to the Bechdel Test

bechdel test!

Women talk about things other than men. Like killing them.

Kidding. But seriously, there’s a hot topic rearing its head in Hollywood, and it has to do with the ladies — or lack thereof. Nip slips, full frontal, the F word. If bombs are dropped in a movie, you know about them before the opening scene. There’s a rating system for that. But how do you know if a movie is gender biased?

Enter cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Back in 1985, a character in her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, outlined three rules she held movies to: 1) There must be two female characters with names, who 2) talk to each other about 3) something other than a dude. Today, it’s called the Bechdel Test. And even though it’s not new, it’s got people talking again.

Let’s break it down. This weekend, Inside Llewyn Davis and Out of the Furnace hit theaters. In Davis, Carey Mulligan is the only one without a penis, and she talks only to a man — about a man. Scott Cooper’s Furnace, while it scores above average as a searing drama (think Fight Club meets The Deer Hunter), is an epic fail. Not one single strong female performance. Zoe Saldana makes an appearance or two, but she’s sobbing throughout — over a man.

bechdel test!

What about last year’s Oscar nominees? Lincoln, aside from a lone conversation between Mary Todd and Elizabeth Keckley, fails; we could be talked down on Argo, but really it doesn’t make the cut; none of the named ladies in Les Misérables talks, or rather sings, to the others. Life of Pi: Nope. Django: F+. Martin Scorsese’s résumé = Oy. Rom coms? Fish in a barrel. Summer blockbusters Pacific Rim, The Kings of Summer, and Man of Steel? You get the point.

So what’s out now that passes? Frozen. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. One might think Gravity. It does star one of today’s leading ladies in a strong female role. But she’s left alone in space to chat with herself. Indie films get it: Concussion, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Side Effects (see if you can spot the theme here). There’s nothing wrong with any of those — in fact, they are all awardworthy — but Disney, YA adaptations, and girl-on-girl: Is that it?

We’re not saying boycott (ha) these movies. They’re quality. See all of them. And we’re not saying the test even begins to address the many other racial and cultural under-representations throughout cinema.

We’re just saying: At least there’s a discussion.

Photo: Courtesy of Everett Collection