From Bechdel & Beyond: The Film Tests You Need to Know

Film & TV
From Bechdel & Beyond: The Film Tests You Need to Know

The more that I learn about film, the more baffled I become. I use to watch films strictly for entertainment, not thinking too much or asking too many questions. Maybe that says something about the films I was watching or maybe it is a reflection of how things change with education and/or age.

I first learned of The Bechdel Test when I was attending a film class. My immediate thought, though not expressed aloud, was that it was ludicrous. How on Earth could we need such a test? Then I started looking at the films I was watching and I realized most of them couldn’t pass. Films for kids couldn’t pass and films for adults couldn’t pass. Films about women couldn’t pass. It’s actually pretty embarrassing how many films don’t pass The Bechdel Test because if the standards were any lower you would need a woman in the film, with a pulse, who says a line. Surprisingly enough, there are still films that wouldn’t pass.

While there is an obvious need to point out the treatment of women in film, there are also problems with race issues and with disability. Alright, pretty much anyone or anything that doesn’t equal a white able, straight, cis man has issues in film. Hollywood gets the white man, the rest of us are pretty fucked right now.

So, there are other tests. There are gender tests beyond Bechdel’s test. There are tests about race, LGBT authenticity, and even disability representation. When you’re watching films, consider some of the following tests and see how many films you are watching pass.

Now before anyone starts in, I would like to point something out. I am not saying that every film needs to pass every test. Some of the best films about women and/or feminism don’t pass the Bechdel Test. Likewise, there are powerful films about other minorities that may not pass their associated test. I am not saying the film has to pass a required test to be good. What I am saying is that these tests were created to make people think, and because in 2016, films about women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and disabled people are failing. All of these tests are here, whether they were started in jest or not, because the films about these groups of people are being made haphazardly and without regard to the people they are representing. Not every film has to be perfect, logical, or good, but if more films were better, then less people would be complaining about how Hollywood is getting it all wrong, all the time.

Here are some of the tests, what it takes to pass, and some well-known films that pass or fail.

Katniss and Prim

The Bechdel Test:

  1. The show must have at least two named female characters.
  2. At least two of the named characters need to speak.
  3. It needs to be about something other than a man.

Films that pass: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Furious 7, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Inside Out, Room, I Shot Andy Warhol

Films that fail: The Big Short, Creed, Point Break, Spotlight, Chef

Underworld

The Mako Mori Test:

  1. The show must have at least one female character
  2. The character gets her own character arc
  3. The arc is not told to support the story of a male character

Films that pass: Pitch Perfect, Underworld, The Hunger Games

Films that Fail: Red Dawn, The Lucky One, Sinister, Spiderman

Rent Movie Poster

The Russo Test:

  1. The show includes at least one character that identifies as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  2. The LGBT character(s) must not be defined merely by their sexual orientation or gender identity. I.E. they need unique character traits that commonly differentiate heterosexual characters from one another.
  3. The LGBT characters(s) must be included in the plot in a way where their removal would have a significant effect. In other words, the character is not just in the show for colorful commentary, urban authenticity, or as a punchline/plot device. The character needs to matter to the other characters in the film.

Films that pass: Ted 2, Legend, Freeheld, Magic Mike XXL, Carol, Adam & Steve, Rent

Films that fail: Hot Pursuit, Pain & Gain, The Wolf of Wall Street

Selma

The DuVernay Test:

  1. The show must feature at least one African-American or POC (person of color)
  2. That character must have a fully realized life as opposed to serving as scenery in a white character’s life or story.

Films that pass: Belle, Beyond the Lights, Selma, The Birth of a Nation

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Films that fail: The Green Mile, What Dreams May Come, The Help, The Blind Side

Finn and Rey

Similar to The DuVernay Test, is The Deggans Rule:

  1. The show needs at least two POC in the main cast
  2. The show cannot be about race to qualify

Films that pass: The Martian, Sucker Punch, Die Hard, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Captain America Winter Soldier

There is also, The Racial Bechdel:

  1. The show has 2 or more POC
  2. At least two of the POC speak to one another
  3. The conversation is not about a white person

Films that pass: Attack the Block, Fast & the Furious 6, Star Trek, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Boyz in the Hood

The Evans Test on Portrayals

  1. The show has at least one main or supporting character with a disability (visible or invisible)
  2. The disability is not used to propel the plot forward in anyway
  3. The character is allowed their own unique personality and “voice” as other non-disabled characters are allowed to have.

Films that pass: Boyz in the Hood, Silver Bullet, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 & 2

Films that fail: The Theory of Everything, Me Before You, Passion Fish, Margarita with a Straw, Million Dollar Baby, The Sessions, Silver Linings Playbook

In the case of The Evans Test on Portrayals, this does not address the issues of casting, which would be impossible at this point, as the vast majority of films about or including disabled characters do not include disabled people in front of or behind the camera.

In the overall Evans Test, a fourth requirement is added requiring:

4. disabled characters must be played by disabled actors

This rules out all of the films that passed the portrayals test. It does however mean that films like X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Knights of Badassdom do pass.

Again, pointing out that these film lists exists is not my attempt at telling you segregate the movies you’re watching. In fact, there are plenty of good films that fail these lists. Spotlight fails the Bechdel Test, but Rachel McAdams’ character was a strong, fully realized character worth celebrating. All movies that fail aren’t bad. The problem is that more movies pass than fail.

Ask yourself the following questions before you complain about the existence of these tests:

Is it that hard to let two women exist in a film that can speak to one another about other things than men?

Is it that hard to let POC exist in a film for themselves and not to tell white stories, exist in white narratives, or to save white people?

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Is it that hard to let LGBT people in a film live and be allowed their own non-stereotypical personalities and to do more than just push heterosexual storylines along?

Is it that hard to let disabled people in a film have their own voice, needs, and feelings?

Movies that fail these tests, fail for those reasons. It’s not hard. The people that are writing these films just continue to write stories about people and things they know nothing about and we as consumers, hunger to see our own representations, so we attempt to dismiss that the only narratives we see, are the same ones, and in some cases, are potentially damaging to ourselves and others like us. Don’t you think it’s time for a change?

Ashtyn Law is a freelance writer living in Ohio. Focusing on film, she spends much of her days watching and analyzing film and television and also writing screenplays.

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