The Bechdel Test & An Animal-Friendly Film List

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Update, 3/18/10: I will see you an animal-friendly film list and raise you television, music, literature and theater. All this and more at POP! goes The Vegan.

Recently, Lindsay at Female Impersonator was struck with the notion to compile a list of films that pass the Bechdel Test. In researching the issue, she found several existing sites which essentially offer the same service, and served them up in a mini link roundup. This all got me thinking about pop culture, female representation, feminist flicks – and, from there, the non-human animal equivalents.

For those who have never heard of the Bechdel Test, it’s pretty simple. The “test” is a set of criteria which a movie must meet or exceed in order to “pass,” namely:

1. There [are] at least two named female characters who
2. talk to each other
3. about something besides a man.

The Bechdel Test – also called the Mo Movie Measure or Dykes to Watch Out For – was popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in a 1985 strip of the comic Dykes to Watch Out For called “The Rule.”

Like I said, pretty simple; and yet, precious few films pass (and many of these, just barely). For example, check out the Bechdel Test Movie List, a sort of user-generated database that rates films on each of the three criteria. It’s not a super-long list, and only about half of the icons are smiling with approval.

Feminist blogs are just as prone to misogynist trolls as animal rights blogs are to those of the speciesist variety; pop culture criticism, in particular, seems to bring the anti-feminist trolls out in droves. (Dudes do not like it when women try to encroach on “their” pop culture, I tell you what.) The mere mention of the “Bechdel Test” is enough to elicit a self-righteous wave of privileged male backlash – despite the rather low bar set by said “test.”

In defending my review of Vantage Point (which passed the test, but barely), I observed,

Rather than being “bullshit,” the Bechdel test is the minimum fucking standard that (most) movies should be held to. It’s pretty simple: two women, who utter at least two sentences to one another during the course of 90+ minutes, about something other than teh menses. Like, seriously: two women, two sentences, not revolving around men. That’s a low bar, especially when you consider that almost every damn movie ever made in the history of the world features two+ men, talking to each other, about something other than women. And yet, somehow it’s a huge fucking ordeal for Hollywood to make a film that features two women whose lives do not revolve around men.

I say “most” because, obviously, there will be the odd exception; movies set in all-male spaces, such as an all-male school or such, can be excused for not featuring (m)any female characters, just as movies set in all-female spaces may not have equal male representation.

Okay, so I was a wee bit angry, given that I was responding to a (now-banished) troll, but you get the idea.

To this, I’d also like to add that fans of the Bechdel Test, by and large, don’t expect every film, without exception, to pass; this would be unrealistic. Films set in all-male spaces, or that focus on men’s relationships with one another, are obviously less likely to pass, and with good reason. The problem lies not in any individual film, but in the overwhelming number of movies that fail the test – it’s collective. Likewise, there are very few films that predominantly feature women (so much so that the film would fail a male version of the Bechdel Test – the “reverse Bechdel,” if you will); and those that do are more often than not dismissed as “chick flicks” (whereas movies featuring a preponderance of men are simply “flicks”). Add it all up, and Hollywood, we have a problem.

(More below the fold…)

Vantage Point passes the Bechdel test, but barely.

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Vantage Point (2008)

Last night the Mr. and I watched Vantage Point while we chowed down on our Thanksliving Day feast. (Yes, I realize that Tofurky Day was actually two days ago, but therein lies the beauty of not being married to a holiday – if you choose to “celebrate” it, you can party any mofo day you want. More on that later, though. I have FSMas decorating to do this weekend!)

Without throwing in any spoilers, Vantage Point chronicles the assassination of the US President and the subsequent series of terrorist attacks during an anti-terrorist summit in Spain. The same sequence of events is viewed through the eyes of various characters, including the media, the Secret Service, an American tourist, the local police chief, the President, and the terrorist group. Each “vantage point” offers a different piece of the puzzle, so you’re kept guessing until the final point of view is presented. Clocking in at 90 minutes, it’s a tight, action-packed film; just when the rewind-replay gimmick starts to feel repetitive, the vantage point switches to that of the terrorists, and the whole story is recounted from beginning to end. As long as I leave my feminist hat in the closet, Vantage Point earns an A.

From a feminist perspective, Vantage Point passes the Bechdel test, but barely.

While it’s largely an ensemble cast, most of the primary characters are male:

* All the Secret Service agents are men; Dennis Quaid (as Thomas Barnes) and Matthew Fox (Kent Taylor) are the main “eyes” of the Secret Service, and as the source of the Secret Service’s “vantage point” and the hero of the movie, Quaid can be considered the film’s lead. Another pair of agents share a lesser role, chasing down the local police chief after the assassination and explosions, and there are several additional agents with bit parts.

* Forest Whitaker (Howard Lewis) is the American tourist who captures most of the action on his video camera. He figures prominently in several of the character’s POVs, and is one of the “secondary” heroes of the story.

* Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), the local police chief, is a man. While a bit of a patsy, he also acts heroically, both before and after the attacks.

* Four of five of the terrorists are men. Of these, three of the terrorists have what I consider prominent roles: Édgar Ramírez (Javier), Saïd Taghmaoui (Suarez), and Ayelet Zurer (Veronica). Of all the females in the movie, Veronica is most integral to the plot (and she also commands the most screen time of all the women); however, she’s not given a backstory or her own “vantage point,” since the terrorists share a POV as a group. The only terrorist whose motivation is examined is Javier’s.

* President Ashton (William Hurt) and Mayor De Soto (José Carlos Rodríguez) are both men. (Though, to be fair, the Mayor is only seen introducing the President.) The President is a likable guy, while his staff (again, two men) is most certainly not.

(More below the fold…)