As I have said before, Bechdel-Wallace Rule or Test is a very low bar, and yet so few films pass it. A comic by Bechdel has a character whose rule for feminist moviegoing is as follows:
The film must have
1. at least two named women in it, who
2. talk to each other, about
3. something other than a man.
I’ve also run the thought experiment of applying the same rule to SF novels, with similarly depressing results of very few “classics” making the cut.
The video below is a beautifully made montage of memorable movie moments called “Epic Movie Tribute”, where the videomaker has pulled together his personal selection of “great films since 1960”. My pointing out that every film moment he selected fails the Bechdel-Wallace Test (BWT) is not meant to call his taste into question – I think most of those films would make a great movies shortlist for almost any fan of films that slant towards the action genre. Besides, even most “chick-flicks” fail the BWT, because the women in them mostly only have one topic of conversation – their romantic entanglements with/yearnings for men as the only possible path of personal fulfilment. This inability of most films (and books and plays and songs) to hurdle such a low bar in the portrayal of women characters is a matter of the zeitgeist of fictional narrative, so mostly liking films that fail the BWT is much more a matter of the films that get a wide market release rather than being a matter of personal taste.
My pointing out that every film in this 10-minute film montage fails the BWT is however meant to call Hollywood’s institutional taste and judgement into question – why are very nearly all these films written around an all-male or mostly-male cast, and why are nearly all these memorable moments in these films written for the male actors, especially those involving “buddy flick” moments? SilverF0x27/Jared hasn’t chosen many actual action sequences per se, (action scenes would make the BWT pretty irrelevant) – he’s chosen more in the way of “character-establishing” shots, many of which involve men interacting with other men to display aspects of character/personality, which does make the BWT relevant .
In the entire 10 minutes of this montage, I counted four female faces. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor beside Arnie’s robot and the young John Connor in Terminator 2. Sigourney Weaver looking determined in Aliens. Uma Thurman with her sword in in the teahouse in Kill Bill. Naomi Watts looking terrified by the giant gorilla in King Kong. None of them are talking to anybody, let alone another woman.
For the rest of the montage, there are many solo shots of male actors in iconic shots from “lone wolf” hero roles, but there is also a plethora of memorable “buddy” moments from two-handers and ensemble films – arguably what is most memorable about these movies is the relationship between the male leads that is on show and which grows through the process of frustrating the bad guys. But what relationships do the female characters have with other women? Ripley and The Bride are lone wolf heroines (Ripley’s relationship with young Root is as a fierce protector, not as a buddy, and the other women in Kill Bill are fatal rivals to The Bride), Sarah Connor’s onscreen interactions are all with men, and I haven’t seen the recent King Kong but I haven’t heard that Naomi Watts’ kidnapped heroine gets any more female companionship time than Fay Wray or Jessica Lange did (which would be zero).
As many others have noted over the years, a montage of “great films between 1930 and 1960” would include many more iconic moments with women characters, and most of them would involve interaction with other characters rather than being a lone heroine (although few of them still would involve scenes of those women interacting with other women, even fewer would be women talking of something other than a man, and thus most would still fail the BWT).
I’m failing to find a satisfactory closing point for this post, so I throw it open to the readership, because it’s a while since we’ve discussed the BWT. What popular fictional works have you seen/read over the last few years that have actually passed the Bechdel-Wallace Test?