Today you will take a test that will help you discover who you truly are. The future belongs to those who know where they belong.
I’m not a big fan of the Bechdel test, but it can be a useful tool in reminding oneself how far (or not) women have come in the world. Or at least in the world of Hollywood.
If you are not familiar with it, the rules of the Bechdel Test are simple. To “pass” the test, a movie has to have:
1) at least two women in it, who
2) talk to each other, about
3) something besides a man
Sadly, very few Hollywood films pass this basic test. According to Vocativ, of the fifty highest-grossing films in 2013, a year where the biggest box-office hit of the year was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, only 36 percent passed the Bechdel test.
However, maybe there’s hope. In venturing out to the movies this March, I found myself inundated with kick-ass female characters. A fitting tribute to Women’s History Month I suppose. In any case, a big thank you to both the cinéphile and film critic in my life, who managed to get me out to the theaters four times already this month, which is pretty much unheard of for me outside of Oscar season.
Divergent passes Bechdel with flying colors. It was also my favorite of the films in this post. And, lest you think my love of The Hunger Games series means I’m some kind of Divergent fan girl, I actually hadn’t read these books before seeing the movie.
I was a bit worried at the start because, frankly, I found the underlying premise of this post-apocalyptic world and the five factions (Amity, Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, and Abnegation) ridiculous, but, after the initial set-up, I got really into it. The script is rather clunky, but luckily much of the film is just one long training montage, and who doesn’t love a good training montage? Crazy people, that’s who. [Side note: Is there any doubt I would be Candor? I think not.]
Overall, I liked the look of the film and thought the cast was quite strong. Shailene Woodley is not as convincing an action heroine as Jennifer Lawrence, but she sells the romance a heck of a lot better. As does Theo James. I really found Zoë Kravitz appealing as “new best friend” Christina, although maybe that’s because she was Candor. Bonus props to the filmmakers for their diverse casting. For more on the subject of race and typecasting, I suggest reading this interview with Mekhi Phifer and Maggie Q, who popped in briefly to introduce the film at the screening I attended. I’m glad I enjoyed the movie, since we waited over an hour for them to arrive.
I was really looking forward to Veronica Mars. And, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I think it’s pretty much one for the fans. You’ll love it if you liked the show (and I highly recommend having watched it recently to get all the callbacks to the series), but it’s more of an extended episode of TV than anything else. Of course, it’s always nice to see a female lead with smarts and moxie on the big screen and this film had no problem passing the Bechdel bar: It does so during the opening scene, which shows Veronica being interviewed for a position at a prestigious New York law firm by none other than Jamie Lee Curtis.
Muppets Most Wanted
Amidst this dystopian, pseudo-noir fare, you might think that the family-friendly musical starring the beloved Muppets would stand out for its progressive values. You would be wrong. Instead, Muppets Most Wanted fails Bechdel spectacularly and is by far the least feminist film on this list. Given what comes next, that’s really saying something. While certainly enjoyable (I especially loved the Busby Berkeley-esque opening number), the one prominent female character (besides Miss Piggy) is a sad-sack officer in a Russian gulag who inexplicably moons after Kermit. And a major plot point is how Kermit can’t commit. Seriously? If that weren’t bad enough, I’d be surprised if even a quarter of the cameos were women. What the hell? Get it together, Muppets, and enter the twenty-first century.
300: Rise of an Empire
While there are so many things you are probably asking yourself upon seeing this film listed here, I will only say that I went unwillingly, but I’m awfully glad I did. It’s true that 300: Rise of an Empire doesn’t come close to passing the Bechdel test (although it does have two female characters, Artemisia and Queen Gorgo, they do not speak to each other), but I would argue that it passes in spirit, like Gravity, in that the female lead makes the film. I could not take my eyes off Artemisia, played by Eva Green—both her attitude and her costumes were a glory to behold. The fact that she was based on an actual historical figure, Artemisia I of Caria, one-time commander of the Persian navy? Priceless. It’s quite gory, but any movie that makes you pull down your Herodotus upon returning home can’t be all bad, can it? [Feminist bonus: the men are dressed far more scantily than the women.]