Beyond the Bubble: keep passing the Bechdel test

by Andrea Nease | 1/5/15 9:35pm

“Movies that are female-driven do not travel,” Krista Smith, West Coast editor of “Vanity Fair,” said. When I read this quote I became frustrated with Smith’s defeatist attitude in regards to women in the film industry. My frustration brought on Google search after Google search questioning the current presence of females in movies.

What did I find from these searches? I found a bittersweet mix of disappointment and surprise. I found that Hollywood is far behind the times when it comes to female representation in movies, but there is a silver lining: an increasing number of complex female characters.

I found the Bechdel test, first developed by graphic novelist and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Alison Bechdel, which measures gender bias in movies. The test consists of these two requirements: there be two female characters present in the movie and these two female characters have a conversation about something other than men. Some versions of the test also require that these women have names.

The Bechdel test, in my opinion, is a super easy test to pass — at least I thought it would be. How hard could it be for movies to include two female characters that have names and interests other than men? Apparently it is a difficult task for the film industry. The movement for gender equality is loud and present, yet Hollywood is facing zero repercussions for ignoring social equality. It seems Hollywood is stuck in the ’70s.

This year marked a year of increased attention for the Bechdel Test, and the results are providing a solid foundation for a movie revolution. But let’s look back at how far Hollywood needed to come to reach this point.

For starters, only 25 percent of movies between 1970 and 1974 passed the Bechdel Test. There was not a significant increase in this statistic until 1995, when approximately 50 percent of movies were able to claim a pass. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the percent of films that passed the test fluctuated, but since 2010, the number of films that have failed the Bechdel test have fallen.

On bechdeltest.com there are 203 movies listed with the 2014 release date, 89 of which fail the test. With 56.2 percent of this year’s movies boasting a pass, this is a small but important improvement in the film industry.

More films should pass the Bechdel test, not only because it is morally right to equally and accurately represent women in movies, but also because movies that pass the Bechdel test actually bring in a bigger profit, according to an April 2014 post on fivethirtyeight.com . Hollywood has relied on the myth that male-centric films yield higher profits for decades, but there is no denying that films with strong female roles are the better economic choice.

First off, movies that pass the Bechdel Test tend to have budgets 35 percent lower than films that do not pass the Bechdel test. Movies that pass the test on average also offer greater returns on investment and higher gross profits than movies that fail.

The public as a whole is slowly starting to realize the need for movies to pass the Bechdel test, while those who are already advocates of the test are actually pushing for stricter and more extensive requirements in order to pass.

The current test is so simple that many moviegoers don’t even give it a second thought. I encourage you to be an active moviegoer and think about the movies you are watching. “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies” (2014)? Fail. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)? Fail. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)? Fail.

If this column has inspired you to pay more attention to the movies you watch and the treatment of female characters in those movies, then you’re in luck, because the Dartmouth Film Society is presenting a wide variety of movies that focus on multidimensional female character this term.

The Hopkins Center will show films such as “Gone Girl” (2014), “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” (2014) and “The Lion in Winter” (1968) as an ode to female power. As listed on the DFS’s homepage, “Bette Davis once said, ‘When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.’”

Let’s support the growing number of movies that pass the Bechdel Test and stop letting the film industry ignore gender equality based on financial misconceptions.