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.

Dead Series Discussion: Last Rites for Last Resort (Part 3)

Title CardLast September, the television show Last Resort premiered on ABC. The show starred Homicide alum Andre Braugher as the captain of the nuclear missile submarine USS Colorado, given orders to nuke Pakistan. The Colorado is attacked by American forces after Braugher’s character refuses to fire. A chain of events is set in motion that leaves Colorado in control of a nearby tropical island, attempting to expose the truth of the US government’s involvement in the attack.

Despite a favorable critical reaction, the ratings were never where they needed to be. As a result, the show was canceled after thirteen episodes. For a look back at the show, I am joined by my esteemed colleague, Jeff of Slazenger1. After Monday’s series overview and yesterday’s discussion of what worked, today we look at what did not work for Last Resort.

Jeff: My list of things that didn’t work about the show (for me anyway) is definitely longer than my “praise” list, but I’ll try to keep this to a reasonable length. One of my first big problems with the show was that it never took the time to give us anything worthwhile on the mainland/US side of things. Sure we got awful Kylie stories and dead-end Christine stories, plus we got small mentions of an unstable but highly approved president, however, we never really had a sense of the other side of the major conflict of the series. Yes, the island stories featuring infighting and trouble with the locals were okay, but I don’t think we ever got a true “big bad” for the series. Curry (Jay Karnes) did a little bit, but not enough to make me think he was the villain. I think the writers dug themselves into a hole and were taking their time trying to get out of it, incorrectly assuming that these one-off stories (with consequences that were often conveniently forgotten/brushed aside by the next episode–rape riots anyone?) were going to keep us entertained until we got to the true meat of the show’s central conflict. Continue reading