The Bechdel test is named after Alison Bechdel who introduced the concept as part of her Dykes to Watch Out For comic series in 1985, but she attributes it to her friend Liz Wallace, who attributed it to Virginia Woolf. Here’s how the test works – a piece of fiction has to satisfy three requirements:
- It has to have at least two women in it
- who talk to each other, about
- something other than a man
That’s it. And it’s been surprisingly challenging for movies and TV shows to pass this basic test, even in our current golden age of media consumption. Why? Probably because, well, just have a look at this article to see who sits behind the camera. They’re primarily white and primarily male and it makes sense that those who control the stories, will ensure they reflect their own world views.
But times are changing and there are a handful of incredible examples of ladies crushing mainstream media. Here are our favorites!
Girls Trip is everything. It made history, being the first all-Black starring cast to cross the $100 million threshold at the box office. There had never been a movie with 100% Black ownership to make over $100 million, so that this also passed the Bechdel test is massive.
Ghostbusters (The one with all the women)
We loved the 2016 Ghostbusters. Kate McKinnon was everything. Was it perfect? Nope. But it easily passed the Bechdel test, focusing on their badass careers saving an entire CITY and their friendships. It’s a must watch!
Yes, please give us more Charlize Theron! All the Charlize Theron. Did you see that fight scene where there was no music and she was just fighting and it was painful and awful and brilliant? Okay, so, right, Atomic Blonde stars Theron as an MI6 agent who travels to Berlin as the wall is about to fall in order to retrieve a priceless dossier to take down an espionage ring. Does she have an interesting relationship with McAvoy? Yes, but her relationship with French agent Lasalle is significantly more interesting.
This top box office earner deserves every bit of its acclaim, and easily passes the Bechdel test. The three female mathematicians in the 1960s (played masterfully by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae) rarely talk about a man, focusing instead on their goals, their work, and the obstacles that they overcome every step of the way. It’s clear that their relationships with each other, as well as with the larger community of human “computers,” gives them the support they use to succeed.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
While Carrie Fisher has always been a strong female presence in the Star Wars series, The Last Jedi takes female interaction to a whole new level. Leia and Rey have more agency than we’ve seen women have in previous movies, and one of our favorite scenes is when Laura Dern’s character (Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo) and other female soldiers were discussing their next military move. YAS! Holdo a total, er, force (RIP). And as a sidenote, can we just say, basically anything that Laura Dern does is freaking gold. She’s brilliant and weird and is really really good at choosing great roles.
Big Little Lies
Speaking of Laura Dern, let’s talk about television for a moment. Big Little Lies was produced by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, two women who were sick of seeing women portrayed in a one-dimensional way. The women of this show are complex and the show does a wonderful job of passing the Bechdel test, focusing on their friendships, their careers, their kids. It also crushed the Golden Globes in 2017. Oh and hey, Meryl Streep is going to be in Season 2. EEEP!
Star Trek: Discovery
The latest addition to the Star Trek universe is soooo goooooood. Starring the super brilliant Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnam, she was raised by Vulcans, though is human, so she’s a fascinating character to watch. She’s also right pretty much all of the time and her male captains need to listen to her more often. Where this show shines with regard to the Bechdel test is her relationship with her first captain Philippa Georgiou, and then further on with Captain Tilly.
This Netflix series on its second season features a fictionalized account of how GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) came to be a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s. And it definitely passes the Bechdel test, with a diverse cast of women focusing on their careers and friendships. The women definitely rule the show and it’s no surprise that women are also behind the scenes as well here.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
You must have been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of this one. It’s won all the awards, and for good reason. Mrs. Maisel is about a woman who is getting a divorce from her husband who cheated on her and finds her voice as a comic in the 1950s/60s – and to be clear, she is definitely seen as a female comic. She is complicated and she’s funnier than most (all?) men. But what makes this show pass the Bechdel test so handily is her relationship with her manager played by the brilliant Alex Borstein (she is everything).
We love this list and think many of them go farther than just passing the Bechdel test. We’re trying to be conscious of not just meeting this bar. We think it’s time to go beyond it. It’s 2019, high time to get all underrepresented groups in significant numbers behind and in front of the camera!
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