Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Today we are going to talk about the Bechdel-Wallace Test, a cunning little observation which originated in this comic strip.

Pay attention, because you're going to be really scratching your head in a few minutes time. For a film to pass, it only has to have three little critera:

1) it must feature two named female characters...
2)...who have a conversation...
3)...on a subject other than a man...


thinking? Good, because I sat down with the only other film student in my kitchen, and it took us about 15 minutes to come up with anything. Apparenly only 5% of films pass, and it hardly suprises me.

Without even thinking about it, I know none of my favourite movies do. Reservoir Dogs has no speaking female roles, Zulu shunts our only representative off in the first 20 minutes, and Signs doesn't have more than two in the same timeframe, let alone the same scene.

The problem is, women just aren't interesting. Really. Lets consider this:

  • Women are interested in men, the family and the home. And nothing else.
  • Men, the family and the home are not interesting, because that's where the audience is

Unless you're into real life dramas, of course...In most films, the female role is to be the representative of this area. Connie and Mrs Micheal Corleone are both images of innocence and family stability in The Godfather while the men get all the fun. Sissy Spacek's role in JFK is to be more or less chief villain. I hate, hate, hate any actress who ever demeans herself to say "Oh honey, you work such long hours, why not stay at home with us and the kids?" - especially if the husband's character is working on something really interesting. You know he's going to ignore her, because no one wants to see Oliver Stone directing Kevin Costner in three hours of tree houses, piggy backs, and cookie baking - even if he does then produce a thoroughly annotated screenplay about it.

Even if you are a fan of real life drama, there has to be more than life than a career as a) girlfriends b) mothers c) wives d) whores e) prepubescant horror movie fodder. And f) glamorous newscasters, for disaster movies. Sometimes, you get male characters concerned with the home. And that's fine too - the Prez in Air Force One. But when you don't, and it's not seen as unusual. Perhaps because it isn't - maybe all there is for a girl to aspire to is one of the above roles. The number of female characters who don't conform is very small. Take Kill Bill - Uma Thurman plays an asskicking ninja assassin...taking vengeance for the attack on her wedding and death of her daughter. The ideal mothers day movie. Or La Femme Nikita- her transformation into a femme from a streetpunk is as important as her transformation into a contract killer. Or one of the strongest female characters I've ever seen, Jill in Once Upon a Time in the West, who nevertheless is only allowed to be items a-d on the list above.

To on extent it's the modern equivalent of non-white characters in the 60s and 70s - they weren't there unless it was a role a white actor couldn't play. We've more or less got that one straightened out now. These days, it's very rare to have a character who "just happens to be gay", whose sexuality is not part of the plot (Captain Jack off Torchwood and Doctor Who was one of those, originally). So when will the reclamation of womankind come?

The one case I can think of is Ripley in the Alien movies - playing a role written for a man. The problem is, female roles are still written for "women", as opposed to just people. I don't see myself as "female" at all - I mean, I am, it's a simple fact of biology. But very little in my behavior is defined by the fact. It doesn't affect the movies I watch or the life decisions I make. I would eat no differently, my room would still be a tip, my interests would be unchanged were I male. Hath not a girl eyes, hath not a girl hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a bloke is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

There are no characters which represent me in film - not androgynous, certainly not, just don't give a damn or see why it makes such a difference. Not obsessed with "being a woman", and occupying that narrow band of not-very-interesting-interests. Did you just say Juno? Yes, intelligent teenager, teenager into her movies, pregnant teenager. We need characters who just happen to be female, in the same way that a black and white actors can now (with obvious exceptions) play interchangeable roles. Why can't I play Hamlet?! Sarah Bernhardt did...

Does it matter? Well, it strikes me that no woman should ever say the phrase "female characters aren't interesting" as loudly as I just did, so there is a genuine problem somewhere. And the fact that I've never noticed this imbalance until now probably suggests a deeper problem - that through this imbalanced media, we're taught to accept these passive and pointless roles in both film and life.

Perhaps this is why I never cement anything when I write. Characters have no certain age - somewhere between 12 and 20 is pretty accurate in my book - and often remain nameless. I can't recall ever placing them geographically - the racial mix makes certain assumptions, but they could be anywhere in America, the UK, Europe, Denmark, et al - or anywhere certain it time. "About now" - but my stories develop over many years, rarely being written down, so "now" can again represent a period of about 10 years. Occasionally, class will come into it - I usually have a fair idea of their background - but this very rarely governs their behavior. I assume they're straight in the same way everyone assumes someone else is straight the first time you shake hands - until given proper evidence to the contrary. Like everything else, it's not something I decide, because I prefer to work with a person, not an "American", not a "90s kid", not a "lesbian", not a "teenager", and a lot of the time not "a woman". Because every now and then - two characters spring to mind - I don't give them gender either. They're "probably female", but I've never given the matter too much thought. All that matters is what they do, and what they say.

All this probably says more about me than about cinema - I'm not saying this is universally the right thing to do. For one thing, people are certainly defined by their backgrounds - a teen will talk differently to an old woman, an American from a Brit, a guy from a girl. In terms of plot too, working this way ignores the genuine rules of our society entirely. There are things which, as a [stereotype], you cannot do - you could recast any of the Reservoir Dogs female, but it wouldn't make any narrative sense, because those characters have social prejudices too. And if my system was adopted by everyone, we could never make films about people from X group trancending their traditional limitations, and lose the (percieved) shock contrast of, say, Jodie Foster's scarily masculine Madeline White in Inside Man, or Sidney Potier's fish-out-of-water Virgil Tibbs in Heat of the Night. I'm writing in a purely fantasy world - no dragons, no magic, but still as alien - because these things are impossible in anything resembling a reality.
But maybe, just maybe, it's something to think for Hollywood to think about. And please, never have the "stay at home, darling!" cliche ever again...

Probably says something about the industry too - male dominated, it's no wonder the movies they make are male dominated too. Before discovering this test, I used to ask people to name me five female directors. Which is actually easier - there's Sofia Coppola, Leni Riefenstahl, Mira Nair, Kathryn a gal who wants to direct, and direct "guys with guns" movies at that, Kathryn Bigelow is something of a heroine: Point Break, a heist movie; Near Dark the vampire western and K-19: The Widowmaker, a war film.

I'm not normally an angry feminist, except on this topic - because I'm not given any interesting female rolemodels on film, and because I know that short of a sex change, my chance of a job in The Industry is even more infantessimal. There are some angry feminists who go way too far in trying to right the wrongs of the world, and making sweeping assumptions on the slightest evidence. Yet there are problems, and without trying to be radical about it, they are probably rooted in the fact that films are made by and for the Middle Aged Affluent White Male.

I got quite angry at The War of the Roses, for example - a film my dad has always praised for the sacharrine-free depiction of a collapsing relationship. He's right, it is good - the dialogue between the Roses especially remind me of a thousand fractious arguments watched, avoided or taken part in. The problem is that it's Mrs Rose who mysteriously, abstractly decides she's unhappy and strikes the first blow while refusing to give a reason. And it's Mr Rose, poor Mr Rose, who has to cope with this impossible, motiveless female Other. It angered me for expecting the audience to accept that couples break up due to feminine whims - she hasn't got children to look after, she hasn't got a house to decorate, so she's going to take it out on him. Naturally. Very little suggestion, for example, that it's the fact he works too hard that she's decided to ditch him.

That's just one example that irritated me recently, but the problem is so endemic in Hollywood that once you open your eyes to it, it's hard to ignore.

So with no further ado, here are some movies which pass the Bechdel-Wallace test:

Heavenly Creatures, School of Rock, Ghost World, Kill Bill, Pan's Labyrinth, Tideland, Serenity...

Plus everything I've ever written. It might be interesting to note that all those films are either for children, or have a strong root in fantasy...

The challenge: how many can you think of? Leave it in the comments...


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