International Women’s Day and the Bechdel Test

Happy International Women’s Day!

To celebrate, we’re going to stick with our Hollywood mojo and assess some films from 2012 that passed the Bechdel Test. Go ahead and click that link if you don’t know what the Bechdel Test is. Anita Sarkeesian explains it very well, and then you’ll have a chance to get to know her and her work, too. Yay, Women!

Ms. Sarkeesian discusses how this test is useful as a barometer for how HWood is doing in its portrayals of female characters on film. What I want to highlight are the films I enjoyed last year that actually Pass this test. From Academy nominees to movies you’ve never heard of, let’s take a look at some films that are raising the bar for stories about women.

I’ll start with the big ones – the movies that the Academy was right to honor with nominations, because they were great films, and they pass our simple but super important test to boot.

1. Zero Dark Thirty
Director Kathryn Bigelow got some flack for her award-winning film The Hurt Locker, because many critics said she had made a “man’s movie” in order to secure a place at the Man’s Competition Table (and then handily crush everyone in their seats). While The Hurt Locker was a wonderful and compelling film, it does fail the Bechdel Test spectacularly, with only two women ever noticeably appearing on-screen, neither of whom have names, or conversations with anyone that I can recall.

With Zero Dark Thirty, Ms. Bigelow redeems herself in every way. Here is a film about the greatest manhunt in our time, and central to the story is Jessica Chastain as Maya, the woman who was essential to bin Laden’s eventual death. Maya develops a friendship with Jessica (played by Jennifer Ehle aka Lizzy Bennett!), and they – surprise – have other things to talk about besides men. Not so ironically, Kathryn Bigelow was passed over by The Academy on this one – she wasn’t even included in the Best Director nominations. Coincidence?

Zero Dark Thirty is also a fierce, engaging and powerful film. Five stars.


2. Les Miserables
Bear with me.
Yes, this is a musical, so in this instance, Singing will count as A Conversation.
Many of the women in this story are known as “Factory Woman 1” or “Whore 3” but many others have proper French names and have ‘conversations’ with each other about work, money, the student uprising, prostitution, and in the case of Young Cosette and Madame Thénardier, mothers, chores, and caretakers.

It passes. Three stars.*

*Stars are relevant to passing the test. For how much I love Les Miserables, it gets ten stars.


3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hushpuppy and her precocious self has conversations with several women, and they’re only sometimes about her daddy. They’re pretty short chats, but that has as much to do with the voiceover mechanism and Hushpuppy being a six-year-old as it does with anything else. Four stars.


4. Brave
Please just go see this movie, and make everyone you know see it, too. Then buy yourself a copy and a copy for every child you know under the age of twelve. Five stars.



Now for the lesser-known films that theoretically lack The Gravitas needed to garner attention from The Academy, but also might’ve been looked over because they are stories almost exclusively about women.

5. Pitch Perfect

Okay, so you’ve heard of this one, and you may think me silly for including it, but that’s only if you have no appreciation for Fun and Singing and Awesomeness. With an all-girl a cappella singing group at its center, this thoroughly enjoyable movie passes with flying colors. Plus you get to watch Anna Kendrick doing the cups song! Five stars.


5. Bachelorette
Not to be confused with Bridesmaids, this film is a far more sinister look at weddings and female friendships. I confess it isn’t for everyone, but regardless of whether or not you like it, the movie does a great job of passing the test – especially considering that A Wedding is at the heart of the tale. Far too often, weddings on film are romantic comedies that are all about The Bride and/or Her Fiancée.

Bachelorette is about four friends and the nuances of their sometimes effed up relationships. Not their relationships with men, but their relationships with each other, the men being somewhat on the periphery; which is more like real life than most men would like to admit. Five stars.


6. For a Good Time, Call…
Dearest S brought this movie to my attention, initially because she saw a little of me in the brunette lead actress. Turns out, this is a super fun story about two unlikely friends, their resourcefulness, and their incredible agency over their sexuality.

A special consideration of note: The Bechdel Test says nothing about conversations revolving around Sex, but rather conversations revolving around Men. Think about all the movies you’ve seen where women talk about sex and inevitably the conversation is also about men. For a Good Time, Call… gets bonus points for lots of conversations about the former that only occasionally overlap with conversations about the latter.
Five stars+


Now go celebrate International Women’s Day by watching one or two of these great movies! I’ve seen them all, so I’m going to celebrate by singing some kick ass country songs at karaoke.

And in the future, go see female written/directed/centric movies on Opening Weekend. Hollywood pays A LOT of attention to box office numbers. Let your pocketbook do the talking, and we’ll get more and more stories about women made into movies, until the Bechdel Test is rendered unnecessary and irrelevant! We Can Do It!


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