August 14, 2018
Exclusive

Watch: Everything You Need to Know About the Bechdel Test in Five Minutes

Far too many films receive a failing grade.

[Editor's Note: This video essay is part of our "Everything You Need to Know" series created exclusively for No Film School by Senior Post. To revisit the first four entries in the series, click herehere, here. and here.]

While not all films are created equal, who's to say they can't all strive for equality? At the very least, a film attempting to capture both the simplicity and intricacies of life would do best to display them accurately. 

One simple way to do carry that out would be via the Bechdel Test, a cinema-focused examination first introduced by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her 1985 comic strip, The Rule. In the story, one of Bechdel's characters states that she refuses to attend a movie that doesn't meet the following three requirements:

  1. The film must have at least two women in it
  2. The two women must talk to each other
  3. Their conversation must be about something other than a man

If the film meets those three traits, it will have officially "passed" the Bechdel Test. Sound simple? Watch below to see how so few films pass.

As the video proves, very few films pass the Bechdel Test, but that is by no means a judgment on the movie's quality. Rather, the test was used to point out how rare it is to see women on-screen living in a world that isn't constantly revolving around their male counterparts. Whether or not the film itself was of high quality was not the test's concern.

If a film passes the Bechdel Test, does that automatically qualify it as a "feminist picture?" Absolutely not. If a film meets the test's three requirements, the seal of approval is less about the content of the characters' conversations than it is the fact that they're having one at all. As the video humorously points out, Sir Mix-a-Lot's 1992 music video for the hit single Baby Got Back passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, but you would be hard pressed to find someone who anoints it a glowing example of woman-to-woman conversation.

Other modifications of the test are currently being applied both in-front-of and behind the camera as a means of hiring practices that shine a further light on underrepresented men and women. The Bechdel Test was created to point out (and correct) a lazy imbalance in storytelling that's repercussions may have a real effect on the industry at large, and we're now seeing the real world results, the encouragement of hiring craftsmen from diverse backgrounds to be prosperous directors, producers, cinematographers, and more.

What did you think of the video? For a full list of all the films featured, scroll down below.

Movies referenced

20th Century Women (2016) dir. Mike Mills

500 Days of Summer (2009) dir. Marc Webb

A League of Their Own (1992) dir. Penny Marshall

Annihilation (2018) dir. Alex Garland

Avatar (2009) dir. James Cameron

Baby Driver (2017) dir. Edgar Wright

Baby Got Back (1992) dir. Adam Bernstein

Back To the Future: Part 2 (1989) dir. Robert Zemeckis

Beauty and the Beast (2017) dir. Bill Condon

Bend It Like Beckham (2002) dir. Gurinder Chadha

Black Swan (2010) dir. Darren Aronofsky

Blue Jasmine (2013) dir. Woody Allen

Bridesmaids (2011) dir. Paul Feig

Carol (2015) dir. Todd Haynes

Carrie (1976) dir. Brian DePalma

Doubt (2008) dir. John Patrick Shanley

Erin Brockovich (2000) dir. Steven Soderbergh

Fargo (1996) dir. Joel Coen

Frances Ha (2012) dir. Noah Baumbach

Ghost World (2001) dir. Terry Zwigoff

Girl, Interrupted (1999) dir. James Mangold

Girls (2012-2017) created by Lena Dunham

Goldfinger (1964) dir. Guy Hamilton

Gravity (2013) dir. Alfonso Cuaron

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) dir. James Gunn

Hidden Figures (2016) dir. Theodore Melfi

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017) dir. Macon Blair

I, Tonya (2017) dir. Craig Gillespie

In A World… (2013) dir. Lake Bell

Lady Bird (2017) dir. Greta Gerwig

Late Night With Seth Meyers (2014-present) created by David Letterman

Lilting (2014) dir. Hong Khaou

Max Max: Fury Road (2015) dir. George Miller

Mona Lisa Smile (2003) dir. Mike Newell

Moonlight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins

Mudbound (2017) dir. Dee Rees 

Must Love Dogs (2005) dir. Gary David Goldberg

Pacific Rim (2013) dir. Guillermo del Toro

Scary Movie (2000) dir. Keenen Ivory Wayans

Sicario (2015) dir. Denis Villeneuve

Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977) dir. George Lucas

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) dir. Rian Johnson

The Beguiled (2017) dir. Sofia Coppola

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) dir. David Frankel

The Help (2011) dir. Tate Taylor

The Hunger Games (2012) dir. Gary Ross

The Imitation Game (2014) dir. Morten Tyldum

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) dir. Peter Jackson

The Princess Bride (1987) dir. Rob Reiner

The Social Network (2010) dir. David Fincher

The Stepford Wives (2004) dir. Frank Oz

Thelma & Louise (1991) dir. Ridley Scott

What Women Want (2000) dir. Nancy Meyers

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) dir. Robert Zemeckis

Wonder Woman (2017) dir. Patty Jenkins

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) dir. Kathryn Bigelow     

Senior Post is an award-winning Brooklyn-based post house that provides full post-production services for film, television, web, and branded content. Their work has screened at Sundance, Slamdance, Tribeca and SXSW and they've worked with clients such as A24, Apatow Productions, Vice, Vevo and Refinery 29 to name a few.

Your Comment

2 Comments

While I agree with what the video says, I wouldn't call the failing of said test lazy. I doubt there are tons of screenwriters and directors out there saying "eh... I just really can't be bothered to write in a second female character and have her converse with the first about something other then a man."
I think the reality is less apathetic and less devious. It's more like a bunch of people (typically guys) who write and direct what they know, what they want to know or what they fear. It's neither lazy nor devious if they aren't aware of what they are doing or rather not doing. It's also not devious if they simply want to go in their own direction without having to check off certain checkboxes.
Artists should be allowed to have preferences.

The most important thing is that more females start writing and directing more films about what they know, want to know or what they fear. Filmmaking is not a zero sum game. There are over seven billion people in the world and plenty of films that can be made to reach a variety of audiences. There is no reason to believe that if you give to one you have to take from the other.

August 14, 2018 at 2:53PM

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Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
804

Useless, stupid, out of context idea. It started as a joke. This is no merit for art. This is ridiculous, and I'm sorry you wasted time making a video and writing up about it. This is about as helpful as saying "Everything you need to know about how many chairs to have in a film".

August 16, 2018 at 4:42PM

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Filmmagician
Writer/Director
162