2012 Best movies Oscar nominees

Feminist FrequencyThe Oscars and the Bechdel Test «

It’s been a few years since I’ve checked in with The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies so I thought it would be a good time to look in on Hollywood and see if there’s been any substantial improvement in women’s representations on the big screen. In this updated video, I go through the 2011 films nominated for Best Picture at the 84th annual Academy Awards and see how they measure up to the Bechdel Test. Keep watching because I also propose a small addendum to help clarify the spirit of the test and provide a solution on how Hollywood can fix the glaring problem that the Bechdel Test exposes. I’ll also address the question, “What about the reverse test?” and I’ll show an alternative test that has been adapted by critics to identify the presence of people of colour in films. Sprinkled throughout this video I offer a few movie recommendations.

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It’s been a few years since I’ve checked in with The Bechdel Test For Women in Movies so I thought I’d be a good time to look in on Hollywood and see if there’s been any substantial improvement in women’s representations on the big screen. One way to do this is to apply the test to the films that have been nominated for best picture in the 2011 Academy Awards, since the Oscars are widely regarded as the “best of the best” at least as determined by the industry itself. But before I get to that, here’s a quick refresher on what the Bechdel Test is and how it works.

The Bechdel Test is a very basic gauge to measure women’s relevance to a film’s plot and generally to assess female presence in Hollywood movies. It was popularized by Allison Bechdel in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For back in 1985. In order to pass the test a film just needs to fulfill these three, very simple, criteria: A movie has to have at least two women in it who have names, who talk to each other, about something besides a man. Pretty simple right? I mean this is really the absolute lowest that we could possibly set the bar for women’s meaningful presence in movies.

Let’s remember that this was made as a bit of a joke to make fun of the fact that there are so few movies with significant female characters in them. The reason the test has become so important in recent years is because it actually does highlight a serious and ongoing problem within the entertainment industry.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the Academy Award best picture nominee’s for 2011 and see how they measure up to the Bechdel Test.

First up the Descendents. It’s a story of a father pulling his family through a crisis. The mother is basically fridged before the opening credits even finish rolling to provide the catalyst for the father figure’s growth. This film does pass the test because of a handful of brief interactions between female characters, including between the two daughters, Alex and Scottie.

Moneyball is a story about an American League baseball team centered around their general manager Billy Beane. It fails the test badly, not even having two female characters speak to each other at all. Even so it’s a surprisingly funny and captivating movie.

Tree of Life is a more experimental film about a boy and his family. It fails the test because the only brief scene where two women talk, the conversation is about the death of the family’s son. While it’s true there’s very little dialogue in the film as a whole, the father and the son do speak to each other on multiple occasions.

Hugo is a whimsical film about an orphan boy trying to solve a mystery left by his father. And while there are two named female characters who speak to each other, their conversation is always in relationship to a man except this one 5 second interaction that some might argue constitutes a pass.

CLIP: Hugo (2011)
Isabelle: You were an actress? A real cinema actress, it’s impossibly romantic mama.
Mama: It wasn’t like that, we weren’t movie stars like they have today.

If while at the theater you drop your box of junior mints, and by the time you pick em up you’ve missed the one scene in the whole film where women actually talk to each other, there’s something clearly wrong.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close also fails the test. It follows the story of a boy dealing with the trauma of losing his father on 9/11. Two women never talk to each other about anything other then the boy.

In classic Woody Allan style, Midnight in Paris is about a man struggling to discover himself and while there’s a handful of women in the picture, they never really discuss anything other then men and men’s influence on their lives. Some critics have argued that this brief scene between Inez and her mother constitutes a pass.

CLIP: Midnight in Paris (2011)
Helen: Come look at these Inez. Wouldn’t these be charming in a Malibu beach house?
Inez: oh
Helen: Combien monsieur?
Shop Owner: dix-huit mille
Helen : Merci
Inez : What is that ?
Helen: They’re a steal at 18, 000 dollars.

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