The Rise of the Bechdel Test

NPR did a segment on the Bechdel Test a couple days ago. It was created by awesome cartoonist Alison Bechdel  (“Dykes to Watch Out For”, “Fun Home,”) in this comic, where one of the characters says that she only watches a movie if:

1) The movie contains more than one female character;

2) Who talk to each other;

3) About something besides a man.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Nope. The Bechdel Test is surprisingly hard to satisfy. Pixar movies mostly fail, with the exception of the Incredibles and A Bug’s Life. Pretty much any big mainstream popcorn-action movie (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Spiderman, Hellboy, Transformers, Indiana Jones, James Bond) – fail.

The Bechdel Test has spawned other tests:

From NPR:

  • The Deggans Rule – 1. At least two nonwhite characters in the main cast…2. in a show that’s not about race.
  • The Morales Rule – 1. Nobody calls anybody Papi. 2. No dancing to salsa music. 3. No gratuitous Spanish.

Others:

  • The Frank Miller Test – Is the proportion of female sex workers to neutrally presented female people in his story greater than 1:1?
  • Does your story contain only one prominent female character? If so, please check the reasons that you included that character and made her female…

After seeing the last episode (warning: spoiler) of the Wire (Season 5) last night, I hereby propose another test:

The Goldensilverblattcohenstein test: If there is only one explicitly Jewish character (Jewish name, use of Yiddish, mention of brisket), is he a greedy dishonest lawyer with a big nose? Yes? FAIL.

For more, The Hathor Legacy has a series of posts explaining why film schools teach screenwriters to fail the Bechdel Test. And Karen Healey explains how to write a female character that doesn’t drive her crazy.

Thanks to Chaos Theory and Metafilter for the links.

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3 Responses to The Rise of the Bechdel Test

  1. anna says:

    i love the bechdel test.

    and, yes, that is my one real problem with the wire. they could have made him a sleazebag jewish-ish lawyer (these must exist) without regularly rubbing our (contemptuously large) noses in his jewishness. particularly when our noses are rubbed in no one else’s ethnic background on the show. and he’s almost the only unambiguously evil character. W.T.F.

  2. The Deggans Rule – 1. At least two nonwhite characters in the main cast…2. in a show that’s not about race.

    Can I add a subsidiary rule to that one, that requires that if two people of different races are dating each other, it is not a significant plot point that they are from different races. Sadly enough, the first thing I saw that satisfied that requirement was, from memory, a plot line on Ally McBeal.

  3. How about Niki and DL from Heroes? Though I’m not the biggest fan of the show, they actually had an interracial couple (with adorable biracial kid) and it had nothing to do with the plot. Oh! And Pearlman and Daniels from the Wire. I wonder if it’s meaningful that both couples are black men and white women?

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