Women’s representation in film as we all know is essential, and in recent years it has been a prevalent topic due to the MeToo discourse. One of the most well-known ways to measure women’s representation in film or tv is the Bechdel Test, created by Allison Bechdel.
The test asks three questions for a film to pass: “1) Does the movie have two female characters?; 2) Do they speak to each other?; 3) Do they speak about something other than a man?”. At first, the Bechdel test came about as “a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper” prior to evolving into what it is today. Bechdel’s inspiration was Virginia Woolf in “A Room of One’s own”, who stated in an essay that female characters were mostly shown to have no friendships among other females.
Unfortunately, passing the test does not give us any indication of a film or show’s progress regarding feminist thought. According to a study by the American Psychological Association in 2022, “Our results show that only half of the most popular movies (49.58%) pass the test.” And although there are more movies that are passing the Bechdel test recently according to the same study, it is still not enough. Female representation does play a huge part in our society, with film and tv being huge proponents in shaping the minds of the young. This all comes down to who writes our films and tv shows.
However, it comes to mind if the Bechdel test is still relevant or even flawed. Corrina Antrobus, the founder of Bechdel Test Fest, stated “We get into a habit of lapping up crumbs and pretending to be fed.” According to Polygraph, all women writing teams have a zero percentage failure compared to all male writing teams who have a 53% failure.
The Bechdel test is certainly broad, it is difficult to ascertain progressiveness in a film by three simple questions. It definitely brings up the question if there are ways to improve it, or do we let it be. Dubbed the next Bechdel Test, FiveThirtyEight is a website that uses data from women to find new methods of finding racial or gender prejudice and asks questions such as; “1. Was the supporting cast at least 50% women? 2. Did a woman write or direct the film? 3. Did a female lead end up dead? 4. Is there a black woman in the film?” This is an example of how we can improve the film industry.
Do we need a test to tell us whether a not a film is progressive or not? Or can we ascertain that fact for ourselves? The power lies with us as film consumers to change the film industry.