Knapsacking Up: Film Representation

I Am Male… I am fairly represented in film.

It was in a discussion of Last Resort that I was introduced to the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test is a set of three rather simple questions to help show gender bias in television or film.

First, the there must be two named female characters. That’s it. Two female characters who are given names. Second, two named women must speak to each other. That’s it. Two women talk to each other. Third, that conversation is about something besides a man. That’s it.

Two named female characters having a conversation about something other than a man. This isn’t exactly the most stringent test out there. However, you’d be surprised (or not) at how many films fail the test.

Forrest Gump has multiple women who never converse.

The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi have only one named female character. Star Wars and Revenge of the Sith have multiple women who never converse. This means that the only two movies that pass are the two worst of the series.

Citizen Kane, a film considered by many to be the greatest ever, has multiple women who never converse.

The Godfather has multiple women who never converse.

Batman Begins has multiple women who never converse. The Dark Knight only “passes” because Joker had one of them at gunpoint. The Dark Knight Rises passes because the writers were aware of the test and chucked in a token conversation that didn’t impact the story or film in any meaningful way.

Ditto for Argo.

The Departed, Slumdog Millionaire, The Social Network, Inception, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Avengers, and the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy fail the test as well.

Now obviously, there are good reasons some movies fail and I’m sure anyone could cherry-pick a bunch of movies that pass. The point is that there is no “reverse Bechdel Test.” Film and television are male-centric. I’ve never had to think about it. Women do.

If I had to pinpoint a culprit, it would be the lack of female writers in Hollywood. I consider myself to be an empathetic, thoughtful person (I’m great!), but I know I would be HORRIBLE at writing female characters. Not because I’m stupid or sexist, although I can be both, but simply because I don’t understand.

I’m a straight, White, American male. I don’t know what it’s like to be anything else. Because of that, I’ll never be able to represent anything else 100% accurately. There are writers of both sexes in Hollywood who are way better than I in that regard. Sadly, most are not.

Until that changes, our movies won’t.

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Take That, Nietzsche! – A Spoiler-Free Q&A Concerning God’s Not Dead

1) What’s the movie about?

The plot, via the movie’s official website:

“Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson begins class by informing students that they will need to disavow, in writing, the existence of God on that first day, or face a failing grade. As other students in the class begin scribbling the words “God Is Dead” on pieces of paper as instructed, Josh finds himself at a crossroads, having to choose between his faith and his future.”

2) If I wanted to see a movie about a straw man, I’d go see The Wizard of Oz.

Boom! Roasted!

But also, that’s not a question. Next.

3) Is the movie any good?

Not if our friends at Rotten Tomatoes can be believed. Or IMBD. Or Metacritic.

4) What’s with the title?

Assuming they’re not referencing subpar Sabbath songs, the title is a rebuttal of sorts to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead.” Nietzsche believed that the power and importance that God held over and to Western society was waning, or “dying,” due to our increasing secularization.

Nietzsche was not mourning the passing of God, nor was he celebrating it. He was much more concerned about whether or not humanity would find meaning in its existence if its traditional source was gone.

5) How has it taken this long to figure out that religious people like movies too? Continue reading

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Wolverine (A Spoiler-Free The Wolverine Review)

The WolverineIn The Wolverine, sequel to 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hugh Jackman must again be angsty, kick ass, and chew bubble gum… and he’s all out of bubble gum. Although Jackman’s Wolverine doesn’t tread new ground, the movie is very different from the five preceding X-Men films. So it’s different. Is it worth watching?

The plot, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox: Continue reading

More Like Pacific Dim, Amirite? (A Spoiler-Free Pacific Rim Review)

Pacific RimPacific Rim is, at heart, a throwback to the monster and mecha (“Kaiju” and “Jaegers” in the film) genres that are typically associated with the Japanese. In fact, director Guillermo del Toro has stated that part of his desire in making Pacific Rim was to introduce these genres to a new generation of moviegoers. That’s all fine and dandy, but is Pacific Rim worth seeing?

The plot, courtesy of Wikipedia: Continue reading

Why Do You Love This?

Nike is a far better symbol for America than Columbia. Not only is Nike appropriate as the Goddess of Victory (Success in almost 90% of our military conflicts), but also as the Goddess of Just Doing a Thing. We do. We don’t think; frequently before, but especially after. For all America’s positive traits, we are not a nation of reflection.

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Some months back, I posted an essay claiming that American society places an extremely high value on violence. If this is true, the Western is easily the most “American” style of film.

After all, consider the subtext of every Western: Justice (read: violence) dispensed from the twin barrels of a righteous sawed-off shotgun. Others will fail you. Society will fail you. The law, most of all, will fail you. Your convictions, backed by a six-shooter (and a high-powered rifle for that guy on the rooftop), never will.

It doesn’t get more American than that.

Before I watched Unforgiven, I had never enjoyed a Western. Unforgiven, though, is perhaps less a Western than it is a deconstruction or critique of Westerns. Unforgiven took apart the myth of frontier justice and replaced it with something far messier and far uglier.

It asked the quintessentially un-American question: Why do you love this?

The violence of Unforgiven is merely pervasive; its consequences are inescapable. Continue reading

We All Got It Coming, Kid

(Editor’s note: Saturday afternoon I posted this on my website. By Saturday evening, a good friend of mine published a response/supplement. This is a continuation of that discussion. Erik, if there’s more to come, keep it coming.)

I can still remember the exact moment that I came to recognize my responsibility to the world. I had been raised well by two loving parents. I understood responsibility. I understood cause and effect. But I don’t think parents can teach collective guilt.

For that, my teacher was Clint Eastwood. Continue reading