The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
|Hands up if you passed the Bechdel Test?|
With the recent release of the figures for box office gross for 2013’s biggest fifty films, thoughts for some decided to dwell on that most relevant of questions; why can’t movie-makers make the films they want to without having some man-hating, club-wielding, lesbian outreach programme telling them that it’s not fair?
Alright, alright, keep your inarguably comfy underpants on. This is just an extreme example to prove a point. I love lesbians like James Franco enjoys the company of a Scottish teenager. Especially the ones in pretty pink lingerie that do the porn (the lesbians, not the teenage, Scot, you understand). I have nothing against anyone in fact, as long as they don’t try and tell me what to do, or more importantly, what I should watch to feel like a proper human being.
I am acutely aware that there will be a notable few in my audience that may suggest that this is exactly what I do already, but I will contend that I have never yet made anyone feel inferior or subjugated because of the type of film they choose to watch or make, nor demand they see anything because I feel it is their moral responsibility to do so. How you express yourself is up to you and nobody should tell you otherwise. This law applies to film-makers as much as anyone else.
And if this is the case, surely both parties in this debate should have equal say? There are those in one camp that suggest, quite rightly, that making films that pass The Bechdel Test is financially wise. Given the evidence presented, it would appear that those films that pass this particular test do indeed make more money, but the formula for working these figures out is rather too specific to impose on an industry that serves everyone, and not just those who are kicking up a fuss about how they feel under-represented.
If I do another type of test for, say, science- fiction (?) movies that feature no more than six cast members, one of which has to be Sandra Bullock, who must spends at least five minutes of screen time dressed in a vest, then this type of movie will also appear to make more money, on average, than any other type of science-fiction movies without vests in them. So then, vests all round? Or maybe, let’s say, we do a similar test on animated movies that have two princesses and Idina Menzel as the throat. It would narrow it down to a certain set of rules, but because that type of movie makes buckets and buckets of cash, does it really mean we shouldn’t make anything else?
Is this debate even about finance in the first place? Does it matter to those same detractors of films that fail the test whether or not any film makes money at all? Do they care about the industry they appear to criticise so vociferously for apparently not meeting their needs?
Using the box office gross for the top fifty movies last year as leverage for making more films with women that go on at length to each other about knitting, menstruation or how long it takes to roast an eight-pound turkey in them is really a moot point for film-makers as the film-makers featured in this list would probably make a movie about the bits of fluff in my navel if they thought there was a billion dollars in it.
As an average Joe from north-west England, who is married with three children, I too feel under-represented by Hollywood, the selfish, dream-weaving, entertaining bastards. How dare they not make more films featuring bitter Mancunian movie reviewers that don’t get anywhere near as much sex as they used to and are about as socially acceptable as telling your chubby next door neighbour that it’s personality that counts if you want to hook yourself sugar-daddy?
Do I want Hollywood to represent me? No. God forbid. But why not, when apparently hordes of disenchanted people apparently have a problem with what is being made right now?
Well, it’s quite simple. Who would watch the movie of my personal circumstances? Not even me, if the truth be told. Clearly those advocates of The Bechdel Test do not care whether a movie makes money or not as long as they feel they are represented. However, for those making the movies that expect to achieve at least a respectable financial return (the last time I checked, this was still the entertainment business), whether a film makes money or not is, if not a pre-requisite, then certainly a major factor when deciding what kind of project to undertake. Apparently, the Test only really works if you are wearing the patented ‘no-risk, rose-tinted spectacles’ at the time.
Ultimately, whilst The Bechdel Test is a noble attempt to highlight what really is a non-issue in the entertainment industry, it really is a pointless exercise. Suggesting that movies that pass the test make more money is not really reliable for the reasons I have given above. Drill down on enough variables, then even my navel-gazing project would be cinematic gold, purely on the basis that there isn’t enough films made about the subject already.
If a film that does indeed contain two or more women discussing something other than men or their relationships with them is a success, then it’s not necessarily because of this reason that they are successful. There is no way to prove this and the film in question may be popular, critically praised and profitable despite this being the case and not because of it.
So please, film-maker, just carry on doing what you’re doing so brilliantly. If you want to make a movie about women that doesn’t revolve around their experiences of the opposite sex, then by all means, go for it. But do it because your creative juices make you, because of your need to tell stories. Your stories. Not the stories you think you should tell to assuage those that inexplicably shout the loudest about not being heard.