The other week I came across Empire’s list of the Top 100 Greatest Movie Character’s of all time. At first I thought nothing of it, but the other day I went back to perform a little experiment. The test was simply this: how many women made the list?
Twelve… Twelve, out of a possible 100. Out of those twelve, only three made it into the top 50. Out of those twelve, only five managed to score higher than Wall-E, the cartoon robot which has about 17 lines of dialogue in the whole movie! I mean, come on. Are film makers so bad that they cannot make a woman’s character better than an animated robot? …Because I know plenty of women who would be a lot more interesting without any words.
All this reminded me of what I should have blogged about a long time ago, the “Bechdel Test.” For those of you who haven’t come across it, I will briefly explain. The test comes from Alison Bechdel who created three simple criteria to see whether movies have adequate female representation. The criteria are as follows:
- The movie has at least two female characters, with names,
- Those two females talk to each other,
- The conversation is not about a man.
The test seems simple enough, right? Well, surprisingly – or not so surprisingly – a huge number of movies fail the test. For instance, at the last academy awards only 2 out of the 9 best picture nominees past this test; although one of those only passed due to a 5 second exchange between two women. But, why is this such a huge problem?
Well, I am sure that we would all agree that most films are designed to portray a part of human life. Most genres, except perhaps some fantasy/sci-fi are set in a time or place where the events could actually happen. Taking this into account, as well as the fact that just over half of the population is made up of women; wouldn’t it be okay to assume that just over half of the characters in movies would also be women? Well, I know that’s unrealistic – many parts of society are made up of just men, a film about politics, or corporate business(men) for example? Therefore a representation of the real world would in fact be mostly men, although in my opinion that just reflects the systematic sexism that we have in the world.
Nevertheless, aren’t most movies actually fictional? Whether or not they are based on true events, most writers and directors have the poetic license to add, remove or modify the story’s characters; couldn’t they decide to make some of them female roles? After all, we are supposed to identify with these characters, right? As it stands, young and adult women who watch these movies aren’t exactly spoilt for choice in terms of cinematic role models.
What is more, you’d be surprised at how many movies really abuse their female characters just to move a male character’s plot along. These are called ‘tropes,’ similar to a cliché – where the female character is usually portrayed in a negative light such as the classic ‘I’m going to use my dangerous sexuality to lure you in and then kill you’ type.
It’s not like I want every movie to be full of women, but I also don’t want every movie to be full of men. From the people that I’ve spoken to about this, most of their reactions are of surprise. They find it hard to believe they’ve been watching movies for so long without realising. I just hope that we can continue to raise people’s awareness of how women are portrayed in the media, and this goes just as easily for other marginalised groups too!
If this resonates with you in any way, please take a look at www.feministfrequency.com for really great videos and info on women in popular culture.
Also, to see if your favourite movies pass the Bechdel test, you can find out here: http://bechdeltest.com.