A coworker introduced me to the Bechdel Test a few weeks ago, and my life has not been the same since.
Coined by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, the Bechdel Test is a measurement of female presence in film. In order to pass the Bechdel Test, a movie must meet the following requirements:
1. There must be at least two female characters;
2. Who talk to each other;
3. About something other than a man.
Sounds so simple, right? But it’s amazing how many movies do not pass this test – especially movies that I normally would have considered pretty empowering. It’s also amazing how many movies do pass, so with the help of some friends, a recent New Yorker article, and a nifty little website called BechdelTest.com, I’ve compiled a list of ten Bechdel-friendly movies that surprised me.
Kill Bill Vols. 1&2 (2003-2004) – I don’t know about you, but I personally do not tend to consider Quentin Tarantino the oracle of feminism. Yet both these movies feature Uma Thurman’s “Bride” character having extensive conversations with her female adversaries while they are simultaneously kicking each other’s asses. Occasionally they even speak in Japanese.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Could it be possible that both the book and the movie were at the forefront of the feminist movement in addition to all of the trails blazed for civil rights and a host of other social issues? A quick mental search brings up no other movie with a six-year-old female tomboy at its center – well, maybe Annie. The inquisitive Scout has conversations with the Finches’ maid Calpurnia and neighbor Miss Maudie. Most of these center on her unwillingness to conform to gender stereotypes, but they’re also occasionally about day-to-day topics, such as the workings of the Finch household.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – So, again – Roman Polanski’s not on my list of Men With Tremendous Respect for Women, for obvious reasons. And I actually studied Rosemary’s Baby for an entire semester and still didn’t think of it as “the quintessential Bechdel movie,” which is what one of the commentators on BechdelTest.com calls it. But I did some quick research and lo and behold, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary talks extensively with both her satanic neighbor Minnie Castevet and her girlfriends. It’s interesting. Although it does kind of make me want to add a fourth rule to the Bechdel list that specifies the conversations also can’t be about babies. Or Satan.
Alien (1979) – Much to my husband’s chagrin, I have actually never seen Alien. Or any of the Aliens Franchise, for that matter. I feel like I’ve seen it parodied enough that I get the general idea, and overall I tend to avoid movies that feature slime. But Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley talks to co-astronaut Lambert about a lot of things – most notably how to not end up dead. Apparently the alien itself – as well as the ship – is also female? Anyway, it sounds pretty cool.
Clue (1985) – This movie has always been a favorite of mine, and has given me many quotable moments, most notably consisting of bestowing a Singing Telegram on everyone I know. The majority of the movie takes place in a group setting, and the women (we all know who they are) consistently trade barbs about each other’s backgrounds, as well as the escalating crime.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006) – This was my mom’s addition to the list, and I found it to be a brilliant suggestion. Yes, it’s not surprising, but this is my “quintessential Bechdel movie.” Anne Hathaway’s Andy is talking to either Meryl Streep’s Miranda or Emily Blunt’s Emily during probably 80% of the movie’s scenes …and almost none of these conversations are about men. Rather, they’re about the things that are central to most modern-day women’s lives…work, work-life balance, fitting in, and occasionally shoes.
The Incredibles (2004) – This took some digging. I really wanted to include a Pixar movie on this list, and as it turns out there’s no easy feat, since most Pixars only have one female character, and she’s often kind of boy-crazy. (Remember Eve in WALL-E? Shameless, really.) However, this one takes the cake. Helen Parr (a.k.a. Elastagirl) speaks to her daughter Violet pretty frequently; she also has a memorable scene with the costume designer Edna Mode.
A League of Their Own (1992) – As soon as I mention the Bechdel Test to almost anybody, this is the first movie that comes to mind. The women do talk about men a lot. They also talk a lot about baseball, which is a movie rarity, I feel. Plus, there’s like nine of them. And their characters are all pretty fleshed out. It’s also, as it turns out, based on real life.
Reality Bites (1994) – Remember how incredibly cool this movie was when it came out? I think I still have soundtrack on cassette somewhere (begins with “My Sharona”…concludes with Lisa Loeb). I’m mostly surprised by this one as it was an early directorial project of Ben Stiller, whose later movies have not always been up to Bechdel-snuff. Winona Ryder’s Lelaina has several conversations with Janeane Garofalo’s Vickie. (Remember, for that matter, Janeane Garofalo? A quick Google shows she’s currently appearing on Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. Who knew?)
Dirty Dancing (1987) – Okay, so, this is obviously a HUGE stretch, but I’m including it anyway as DD is (unsurprisingly) one of my favorite movies of all time… and it does pass the test! This is all thanks to one scene: when Baby’s sister Lisa tells her (recite it with me, please) “you’re pretty in your own way.” (Or does she say, “You’re prettier your own way?” I was never sure.) There is no other Bechdel-friendly scene in the entire movie. That’s the one.
Clearly, there are entire genres I’m missing here: period pieces (A Room with a View, anything based on Jane Austen); female “buddy” movies aimed at a particular age demographic (Mean Girls, Troop Beverly Hills), and so on. I’m also shamefully unacquainted with older movies, as well as certain genre types (horror, action/adventure). I’d love to hear others’ top-ten Bechdel lists, as well as any challenges to the above. I can take it. I promise.