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.