This test determines whether women in Oscar Winning movies are important at all

Have you heard of the Bechdel test?

Tina Das Tina Das
मार्च 13, 2018
Atill from Black Panther (2018) and Spotlight (2015). Photo courtesy YouTube.

The latest Oscars are out, and we will remain the generation that witnessed both #MeToo and TimeIsUp, empowered by courageous women who spoke out against sexual violence, carried out by rich, powerful men. But that's when you take a pause and wonder, what about the everyday life? What about the books we read, the movies we watch and the songs we listen to?What about rampant gender divide in equal pay, or awards given to women?

BBC conducted a Bechdel test to figure out how Oscar-winning movies have fared in terms of how women are represented. Well, the results are eye-opening.

But first things first.

What is Bechdel test?
From left, Rachel Morrison, nominee Best Cinematography, Alison Janney, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Frances McDormand, Best Actress. Photo Courtesy Instagram From left, Rachel Morrison, nominee Best Cinematography, Alison Janney, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Frances McDormand, Best Actress. Photo Courtesy Instagram

The Bechdel Test, originally inspired by a 1985 installment of Alison Bechdel's comic Dykes to Watch Out For. In it, was a character with three basic requirements for a movie: it has to have at least two women in it, they have to talk to each other, and they have to discuss something besides a man. It's long been considered a useful tool for assessing how often entertainment excludes women, and whether they are portrayed as three-dimensional characters whose lives do not revolve entirely around men.

What are the flaws?
Dunkirk (2017), set during World War Two, doesn't have any named female characters. Photo courtesy YouTube. Dunkirk (2017), set during World War Two, doesn't have any named female characters. Photo courtesy YouTube.

1. It does not take into account the overall characterization of female characters in a movie.

2. It does not necessarily guarantee equality, since the passing limit is one scene, which often might just be that one scene in a movie.

Until recent times, winners such as Moonlight (2016), Gladiator (2000) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) all fail the test, along with two of this year's best picture nominees. Darkest Hour  (2017) fulfills the requirement to have two named female characters but at no point in the film do women have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. Does that not speak volumes how much representation women really have in film? Dunkirk (2017), set during World War Two, doesn't have any named female characters. Two actresses given a high billing - Miranda Nolan and Kim Hartman - instead play characters known as "Nurse" and "Stewardess" respectively.

We recently had Black Panther (2018) which of course had strong female characters and had them talking to each other about all kinds of things. But that's one movie in a sea of movies produced every year in Hollywood.

How many passed the test?
Black DSwan has Natalie Portman playing the lead role.It won the Oscar in 2010.Photo courtesy YouTube Black DSwan has Natalie Portman playing the lead role.It won the Oscar in 2010.Photo courtesy YouTube

We have a tendency of googling list of best movie on weekends to watch a good movie. Many or rather, all of them are usually award-winning movies. Forty-four of the 89 best Oscar picture winners pass the Bechdel Test .But in both of these examples, very few lines are actually spoken by women - it just so happens that one or two instances of conversation meet the requirements of the test. Analysis by BBC software developer Hanah Anderson points to the huge difference in the amount of words given to male versus female characters in several high profile films.

How much conversation is enough?
Even The Hurt Locker (2008), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, for which she picked up the best director award in 2009, fails the Bechdel Test. Photo courtesy YouTube. Even The Hurt Locker (2008), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, for which she picked up the best director award in 2009, fails the Bechdel Test. Photo courtesy YouTube.

Spotlight (2015), a film about a newspaper investigation into the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests is an example to understand the problems within the Bechdel test.  It passes the test for one conversation. In one scene, journalist Sacha Pfieffer (played by Rachel McAdams) is asked for a glass of water by her grandmother, who is not given a first or last name in the credits. One Bechdel test website user, Leigh, had this to say: "I don't think the grandmother asking for a glass of water in response to learning about the abuse by men in the church constitutes a pass.

"User CA2MA disagrees, writing: "I actually think this glass of water scene is a critical and powerful sequence in the film. The cover-up that she is reading about is larger than just about men. It is about thousands of people and the failure of an institution." (BBC)

What about Bechdel test in foreign language films?
Frances McDormand won the Oscar for Best actress for Three Billboardss Outside Ebbing.,, Missouri in 2018. Photo courtesy YouTube. Frances McDormand won the Oscar for Best actress for Three Billboardss Outside Ebbing.,, Missouri in 2018. Photo courtesy YouTube.

China had the highest number of gender-balanced movies, followed by Korea, UK, Brazil, and Germany, according to analysis of selected films released between 2010 and 2013. However very few films worldwide are directed by women - and they include just one Oscar best picture winner. Even The Hurt Locker (2008), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, for which she picked up the best director award in 2009, fails the Bechdel Test.That is probably the reason why Black Panther has created such waves across the world. It does not just pass the Bechdel test but also has women in the movie who aren't merely strong and intelligence. Their strength and intelligence is understood as a norm and not something unusual or even exceptional.

 

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