The Bechdel Test

natalie portman

In an interview with TIME, Natalie Portman described the type of women she wants to portray on screen but instead continues to receive an incredible number of offers for roles that mostly fall in either the “virgin” or “whore” category*. So with this in mind and in honour of International Women’s Day, we at Mild Concern decided to put the films we see through The Bechdel Test.

For those who haven’t come across it before, The Bechdel Test is a way of measuring the presence of women in film, whose lives do not revolve around men, and is named after comic artist Alison Bechdel who created the concept.

In order to pass The Bechdel Test, a film must:

  1. Have two named female characters…
  2. Who talk to each other…
  3. About something other than a man/men.

There is far more information about it on TV Tropes. For the sake of argument “talk” means “have a conversation”, i.e. both women have to say something specifically addressing each other.

We will be keeping up a running tally of all the films that we’ve seen and reviewed, in order to assess the current state of things and to check for ourselves whether or not the film industry recognises that women exist as separate entities to men. Or alternatively, to see if we’re making a fuss about nothing. Feel free to argue with us in the comments.

It is important to note that this is not a test of feminism or equality (Sucker Punch passes after all) but more a way of highlighting the inherent biases in the film industry and the lack of diversity in roles for women. For the sake of comparison we have also conducted the Reverse Bechdel Test, which applies the rules to male characters.

This is very much a work in progress and we’ll keep updating this post with reviews from our archives and add the films that we see in the future. Before we get to the films, here’s a summary of the things we have learnt so far:

  • Out of 21 films so far assessed, 6 pass the test.
  • If you have sisters as main characters in the film, you’re probably going to pass: see Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Descendants, Strawberry Fields, etc.
  • If, when you do a search for images of an actress in a film, you can only find stills of her topless, this is probably a bad sign. I’m looking at you Chronicle.
  • We are still yet to find a definitive Reverse Fail, although This Means War came very close.

Pass

The Hunger Games - PassThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - PassStrawberry Fields - PassMartha Marcy May Marlene - PassTake Shelter - PassThe Descendants - Pass

Fail

This Means War - FailThe Muppets - FailThis Means War - FailChronicle - FailShame - FailAnother Earth - FailMission Impossible - Ghost Protocol - FailMy week with Marilyn - FailThe Future - FailSnowtown - FailThe Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - FailTales of the Night - FailCarnage - FailWe Need To Talk About Kevin - FailCoriolanus - Fail

Reverse Pass

The Hunger Games - PassThis Means War - FailThis Means War - FailChronicle - FailThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - PassThe Muppets - FailShame - FailThe Future - FailSnowtown - FailThe Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - FailTake Shelter - PassTales of the Night - FailCarnage - FailWe Need To Talk About Kevin - FailCoriolanus - Fail

Reverse Fail

* Portman also joked that in five or 10 years time, she’ll be growing too old and ugly for Hollywood, which is a whole other depressing can of worms.