In order for a work of fiction — in the case of this blog, a narrative film — to pass the Bechdel Test, it has to include three key components: 1) at least two named female characters, 2) who interact with each other, and 3) have a conversation about something other than a man. While this may sound like a low bar, the bulk of films being released each year don’t meet these requirements. Hollywood has long been controlled by the patriarchy, and few male directors have been interested in adding some complex female characters to the mix.
Putting together a list of easily recognizable, Bechdel-passing films then, was quite difficult. In fact, if you were to search on IMDb for a list of passing films, the results would include a plethora of foreign films, several low-budget indies, and a smattering of LGBTQ films.
While it is important that these stories are told in any capacity, it’s time that we shift these complex, women-centered narratives to mainstream, blockbuster Hollywood.
Recent years have proved that there is hope for the industry yet, as more female directors have joined the male-dominated ranks and brought us these beautiful, Bechdel-tested films for your viewing pleasure:
- “Lady Bird” (201799% Tomatometer). In Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, we were gifted with a very personal coming of age story set in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento, California. “Lady Bird” explores the complicated relationship between a teenage girl and her mother, who have plenty to talk about besides men.
- “Booksmart” (201997% Tomatometer). Another fantastic directorial debut, this time by actress Olivia Wilde, “Booksmart” follows two academically-inclined best friends who missed out on the fun of high school and attempt to make up for it in one night.
- “The Farewell” (201998% Tomatometer). Lulu Wang wrote and directed this heart-wrenching story about a Chinese American family who reunite upon learning their grandmother doesn’t have much longer to live and decide not to tell her the truth.
- “Hustlers” (201987% Tomatometer). Lorene Scafaria’s comedy-drama inspired by a New York Magazine article follows a group of strip club employees who turn the tide on their wealthy stock-broker clients.
Now, there is a caveat that comes with the Bechdel Test: it’s a flawed measurement to start, holding up all films to the same standard even if the story doesn’t revolve around women. We wouldn’t expect “Call Me by Your Name” to pass the Bechdel Test, nor should we, but in the grand scheme of things, the lack of women-centered narratives is one of the many systemic issues in Hollywood.
There’s also the DuVernay Test, named after the great director Ava DuVernay herself, which is essentially the racial equivalent of the Bechdel Test: African American characters must have fully realized storylines that don’t merely revolve around their white counterparts. The list of films starts to dwindle here, and if you hold up a film to both of these tests — then the list becomes pathetic. I bet you could only name one or two off the top of your head (“Black Panther” and “Miss Juneteenth” for me).
Hollywood, you must know this by now, but you have work to do.