Coming soon to a theater near you: The Bechdel Test

Forget the MPAA. This is the rating system Hollywood needs.

 

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

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Published Nov 6, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 2:32 am CDT

In Sweden, cinemas are introducing a new rule that will make feminist movie fans very happy: a Bechdel Test rating.

The Bechdel Test originated in the comic Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel, in which a character says she will only watch a movie if it includes at least two women who have a significant conversation about something other than a man. Over the years, this test has become the rule of thumb when judging the representation of women in movies and on TV.

According to an article from the Stockholm AP, Sweden’s new Bechdel rating system is supported by the state-funded Swedish Film Institute, as part of an ongoing initiative to promote gender equality in the media. The new ratings system gives an “A” grade to films that solidly pass the test, such as The Hunger Games.

The popularity of the Bechdel test is partly due to its simplicity. When used to analyze Hollywood blockbusters such as Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, the Bechdel Test immediately highlights the way women are underrepresented in mainstream cinema. It’s not uncommon for weeks to go by when none of the major new releases pass the test. However, thinking of the test as a golden rule can cause problems, because there are plenty of films that feature complex and interesting portrayals of women, but still don’t quite pass.

Pacific Rim inspired a new version of the rule this year: the Mako Mori Test. While Pacific Rim only included a couple of women in lead roles (surrounded by five times as many male characters), many fans argued that the central role of Mako Mori was important enough to negate this lack of female representation. The movie may not pass the Bechdel Test, but Mako Mori is almost unique as a woman of color who plays the primary character in a major sci-fi movie, and is never portrayed as a love interest or emotionless ass-kicker. Sometimes, counting the number of women in a movie is nowhere near as important as taking a look at the way those characters are written.

Still, Sweden’s new rating system is a step in the right direction, and one that many people would like to see implemented in other countries. If the Bechdel Test was seen as an important part of mainstream cinema ratings, then maybe we’d finally be hearing about that female superhero movie we’ve all been waiting for. Or at least a hint that in future, women will make up more than 11 percent of the leading characters in Hollywood.

Screengrab via lkraul/Tumblr

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*First Published: Nov 6, 2013, 1:36 pm CST