The Bechdel Test is a simple one that examines the role of women in a film. A movie passes the test if it has two named women characters who talk to each other in a conversation that does not revolve around men. Did any of the Oscars 2013 nominees for Best Picture pass the Bechdel Test?
According to Feminist Frequency, the Bechdel Test “is a simple way to gauge the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films and just how well rounded and complete those roles are. It was created by [lesbian cartoonist-author] Allison Bechdel in her comic strip 'Dykes to Watch Out For' in 1985.”
Being an actress in Hollywood should be more than just being a sex symbol, and female roles should, ideally, be richly nuanced, full of depth and subtlety and equivalent to a male role in cinema, the site notes.
The Bechdel Test, while simple, is deceptively difficult to pass and puts into context that, while there are more actresses in Hollywood with important roles, female characters are still not as complete as their male counterparts. Even with six movies, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Miserables” and “Amour,” featuring leading female characters while “Lincoln” had a strong supporting character in Mary Todd Lincoln, only three movies pass the test, according to the Bechdel Test Movie List.
“Django Unchained,” “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi” all fail the Bechdel Test. “Lincoln” did feature a scene with Mary Todd Lincoln talking to Elizabeth Keckley, but the conversation was about Thaddeus Stevens’ compromise in a debate on slavery, notes Bechdel Test Movie List. “Django Unchained” and “Life of Pi” feature female characters, but they never interact with one another.
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“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Miserables” and “Silver Linings Playbook” all pass the Bechdel Test, but there were plenty of reservations about the conversations. “Zero Dark Thirty” passes thanks to several conversations between women that don’t revolve around men as well as Jessica Chastain’s character being depicted as, not only a dedicated worker who is great at her job, but as the woman who got Osama Bin Laden.
“Silver Linings Playbook” passed thanks to conversations between Jennifer Lawrence’s character of Tiffany and Julia Stiles’ character of Veronica, but as the comments on Bechdel Test Movie List note, the movie is focused on Bradley Cooper’s character and the dinner conversation is mostly small talk. Madame Thenardier and her daughter, Eponine, have a conversation in "Les Miserables," but a film whose source material is a 19th-century novel may not be the best to use the Bechdel Test on.
The three other films pose some challenges for Bechdel Test Movie List. “Argo” has some female characters who talk to one another, but those involve hostages without names, and most users agree that “Argo” fails the Bechdel Test. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a very interesting case because of its unconventional structure and narrative. Only two characters have names in the movie, but there are plenty of conversations between the unnamed females. The interactions between Hushpuppy and her teacher, Miss Bathsheeba, involve one character talking while the other listens and when the two do have a conversation it is about Hushpuppy’s father, note the users of Bechdel Test Movie List. “Amour” is another movie that is questionable because Eva, played by Isabelle Huppert, talks to her mother Anne, played by Emmanuelle Riva, after she had a stroke so it, technically, fails.
Few Oscar nominees for Best Picture pass the Bechdel Test despite the many great performances by actresses in 2013. While Hollywood may be making progress, it seems female characters have not changed as quickly.