The Bechdel-Wallace Test: 2015 Movie Edition

In her Bechdel-Wallace Test: 2015 TV Edition post, S reminds us of the what and why of The Test and digs into this year’s small screen offerings. My mission, which I heartily accepted, is to give you rabble-rousers a rundown of the Bechdel-Wallace* Test Approved films of 2015 (thus far; we still have the Awards Push season to scrutinize!)

Herein are the Gold Star Recipients of the Big Screen Bechdel-Wallace Test Passing Adeptly Awards:

Bessie
As the biopic of the great Bessie Smith (played brilliantly by the great Queen Latifah), there are the inevitable conversations between Bessie and Ma Rainey, Bessie and her sister Viola, and Bessie and her lover (represented in the film by the character Lucille, who is a composite of the women in Bessie’s life). These conversations address careers, lady love, ambition, family, talent, recovery from addiction, and motherhood, to name a few of the Not Men subjects.

Bonus points:

  • Also passes the racial Bechdel-Wallace Test
  • Directed by Dee Rees
  • Queen Latifah!

Mad Max: Fury Road
When you see this movie, it may seem like Imperator Furiosa is the only woman who is actually named. In fact the wives have names, too, they’re just weird, post-apocalyptic names. I’d have to watch a second time to be sure, but I believe each of them is even referred to by name at some point in the film: Toast the Knowing, The Splendid Angharad, Capable, The Dag, and Cheedo the Fragile. Some of the elder women also have names, such as The Valkyrie and Keeper of the Seeds.

There isn’t a lot of dialogue in Mad Max, but when these women do talk, they talk to each other and they talk about the green place, survival, hope, repairing the truck, planting seeds, life and death, conquering the Citadel, and so on.

Bonus points:

  • Great feminist discussions permeated pop culture because of this film. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the key players:
    • Charlize Theron (Imperator Furiosa)
      1. “I knew instantly from understanding the project that George had an innate understanding of what women represent to society and he wanted that to reflect in a post-apocalyptic world in the most truthful way possible. People keep saying ‘strong women’ but we are actually just women. We had a filmmaker that understood the truth of women is powerful enough and we don’t want to be put on pedestals or made to be unnaturally strong. What we are capable of doing is really interesting and informs a story like this.”
    • George Miller (director)
      1. “Initially, there wasn’t a feminist agenda,” Miller insisted. Instead, the movie was simply designed to be an extended chase, and “the thing that people were chasing was to be not an object, but the five wives. I needed a warrior. But it couldn’t be a man taking five wives from another man. That’s an entirely different story. So everything grew out of that.”
      2. “She (Margaret Sixel, Miller’s wife) had never cut an action movie, and she said, ‘Why on earth would you want me to cut the movie,’ and I said, ‘Because if it were the usual kind of guys, it would look like every other action movie you see,’ and she said, ‘My job here is to stop you from embarrassing yourself.’”
      3. “I’ve gone from being very male dominant to being surrounded by magnificent women. I can’t help but be a feminist.”

furiosa and gang

Magic Mike XXL
I can see many of you shaking your heads… What is Magic Mike doing on this list? My answer? Oof, so many things. 

Magic Mike XXL is a celebration of female sexuality. Yes, really! If you haven’t yet, watch it, and see for yourself. (Also, Channing Tatum, so, you’re welcome.) To pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test, we have Rome naming all of her female customers who she sometimes engages in a (brief) tête–à–tête, and later we get the lovely allusions she shares with Paris regarding their shared past. Almost all of these interactions focus on women’s worth, pleasure, and agency. They cover sexuality, career, skill sets, viability, and the delightful idea that all women are Queens.

Bonus Points:

  • I get to post this gif

CT Dancing

Pitch Perfect 2
Becca, Chloe, Fat Amy, new girl Emily, and the rest of the Bellas, talk all things competition, talent, show routines, song selection, confidence, legacy, and sisterhood. PP2 wins all the things.

Bonus points:

  • Directed by Elizabeth Banks
  • Song and dance numbers
  • Becca’s aca-awkward interactions with the head of the German team

bellas camping

Trainwreck
I didn’t LOL at this movie as much as I thought I would, but it was a refreshing spin on the rom-com and easily passes The Test. Amy talks with her boss Dianne about work, getting a promotion, story ideas (gray area here as they work at a men’s magazine), and her sister Kim about their family and Kim’s family and their sex lives and their childhood and so on. Also LeBron James as himself is amazing.

Bonus Points:

  • Challenges stereotypes faced by men and women by flipping the gender norms about sex and relationships on their ass
  • Song and dance number (you’ll see)

AS Wine

The DUFF
Bianca, Jess and Casey, being best friends, talk about plenty of things other than guys. They discuss homework assignments, their friendship, their gifts and flaws, fashion, homecoming, parties (even Queen B Madison gets in on that conversation), and they have a pretty hilarious fight involving social media. Basically they’re actual representations of teenage girls, so The Duff passes with flying colors.

Bonus points:

  • Bianca also has some interesting chats with her mom, Dottie (Alison Janney always wins)
  • Two of the friends ditch their dates for their bestie in need <<— Realness

duff

Here are a few other 2015 movies that pass The Test and are still on my To See list:
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Inside Out
Spy

And one that I will probably never see, but if you don’t mind Mush Mouth Lively, then I hear this one passes admirably:
The Age of Adaline

As a small bonus, here are some 2014 films that pass The Test, which we never got around to writing about, because in 2014 I had a baby and S was busy being really there for me.

  • The Book of Life
  • Birdman
  • Dear White People
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Lego Movie
  • Mockingjay Part 1
  • Maleficent
  • Obvious Child
  • The Other Woman
  • Selma

On a final note, a movie does not have to pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test in order to be considered good. The Test is designed as an (absurdly low) barometer for measuring representations of women in film and television. There are so many movies and TV shows (so many) that fail The Test, it would be wildly inaccurate to require passing The Test as a measure of quality. For example, This is Where I Leave You failed, and it’s a great movie.

The point of The Test is to remind us that when it comes to portrayals of women on screen, we can do so so so much better. We have a lot to celebrate when quality films pass, and the abundance of quality films that don’t pass reminds us that we still have quite a lot of work to do. #wegotthis

bellas boom

*Alison Bechdel would like all of us to start giving credit to her friend Liz Wallace, who laid out these rules in a conversation with Bechdel, prompting her to include them in her comic ‘Dykes to Watch Out For.’ We’re all about credit where it’s due, so Beauty Coup will henceforth refer to it as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

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