The big movie blitz season is upon us. Oscar buzz is wild, studios are putting their best foot forward, Christmas hype is all around. Movies are coming out for everyone! Dramas, comedies, holiday movies, action films, family films. It’s not just that there is something for everyone, there is an abundance for everyone!
And spoiler alert: these stories are probably going to be super male focused.
Media has had an over-representation issue with men for forever. And it makes sense. Men formed our laws, built our networks, and ran all the companies. So of course the creative works are going to be about them. Representing them and glorifying them.
Luckily, there are many other angry feminists in this world who came before me and have noticed that our media isn’t overly representative of women. And they have come up with some wonderful and simple tests to determine if a film is representing women or not (again, spoiler, a lot of them don’t). These tests don’t even demand or imply that women should be the lead, just that they are being presented as actual characters with agency and participation in the story.
The hard part about these tests is that once you are aware of them, you can’t not see it. You’ll start watching movies differently, noticing if they represent women or not. Suddenly movies you have loved your whole life, genres that were always entertaining, will leave you disappointed.
So, to ruin your viewing pleasure, I give you the Feminist Viewing Requirements!
The Bechdel Test
Two or more named women talking to each other about something other than a man.
The Bechdel Test is my personal favorite. Because it’s the simplest one. Could it really be so hard to write a story that includes two named women characters having a minimum of one conversation that isn’t about a man? Yes. Apparently. This test isn’t even about women being the lead in the film. They just need to be named, interact, and talk about something other than men.
Chick flicks often fail. While these movies tend to involve a lot of female characters, the whole story revolves around romantic relationships with men. The characters aren’t developed much beyond their romantic pursuits.
Not surprisingly, most action films fail. Action films tend to be heavily swayed towards a male cast, and the plot is motivated by the males, and the women are there as sexy props to elevate a man. Even from directors thought to be feminist, like Joss Whedon. His Avengers films, while having at least two named female characters, don’t actually interact with each other. However, Ant Man and the Wasp passes with flying colors! Marvel learned something over those six years.
Great films that pass the Bechdel Test: Incredibles 2, Oceans 8, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Karate Kid.
The Mako Mori
At least one female character with her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story.
Named after the character Mako Mori in the 2013 film Pacific Rim, this test focuses on the development of a female character. The Mako Mori is an alternative for the Bechdel, rather than a replacement. Mako Mori acknowledges that a film can have great female representation and development without the characters interacting. Mako Mori wants to expand what can constitute a “strong woman” in film.
Inspired because Pacific Rim did not pass the bechdel test, but had strong female characters and a diverse cast, fans felt that the definition of female representation in film needed to be expanded. Ironically, the sequel passes the Bechdel Test, but not the Mako Mori test. Joss Whedon’s Avengers films hold up pretty well to the Mako Mori test, despite failing the Bechdel Test.
Some great films that pass the Mako Mori Test: Mary Poppins, Silence of the Lambs, Titanic, and Pride & Prejudice.
The Sexy Lamp
A female character that cannot be removed from the plot and replaced with a sexy lamp without destroying the story.
The Sexy Lamp test is all about how relevant a female character is to the plot of a work, if the character has any agency or relevance to the story. Proposed by Kelly Sue DeConnick, if the female character can be removed from the story and replaced with a sexy lamp – if, that is, the female character does nothing and says nothing that is relevant to the story, with the possible exception of existing as a motivation factor or quest object – then the story fails the test.
Some films that totally fail this test: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Great Gatsby, and Blade Runner 2049.
Studios have been justifying their overt male representation for years. Claiming that people just don’t want to see films with female leads or people of color. It’s just not a good investment. Then someone takes a leap of faith and makes Wonder Woman and Coco and guess what, people actually showed up. A lot of them. Like a lot. And those silly studios who thought that people will only pay for a movie if it’s about a white man have a lot of work to do.
It’s getting better. It really is. It used to be that in order for me to enjoy a film I had to put my feminism up on a shelf during the viewing, but studios are becoming more aware that they are being watched and are responding to that with positive changes. There’s still a long ways to go, but it is getting better.
We’ve been critical, we’ve been opinionated, and we have made it clear: representation matters in film. And we are watching. So these studios better shape up.