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Curious question - whenever you watch a film do you ever bear in mind the Bechdel Test or other similar tropes?

23 replies

AdrenalineFudge · 15/04/2016 20:06

I'm in between jobs at the moment so I have a lot of time to waste look into things that I'd have otherwise never paid much attention to. Lately I've been watching a lot of films and have noted the Bechdel test - not to my surprise films have confirmed that women appearing together on screen will almost always have a conversation about a man.

Various types of women are portrayed in a certain light almost all of the time. If the actress in question is fat then she'll always be the funny/humorous one, if she's thin she'll most likely be the love interest that goes through a bit of toil to eventually 'win' the man. Black women are almost always sassy and aggressive. Even in a love story the man will almost always have another storyline that doesn't involve his love interest whereas the woman's sole focus will be about the man.

I read a good blog today about Scarlett Johansson's casting in Ghost in the Shell, based on the classic manga series by Masamune Shirow. Despite the fact that Scarlett is not suited to the role as set out by the author, DreamWorks decided that she'd most likely appeal to a bigger audience.

Do you notice these sort of things or not really care either way?

OP posts:
Charitygirl1 · 15/04/2016 20:13

God yes - once you're awakened to it you can't go back. Doesn't mean you can't enjoy art/entertainment that stereotypes - but you are a more discerning viewer, and perhaps less likely to be subconsciously influenced.

Some people may say you're 'overthinking' - I don't want to go through life under thinking.

SpeakNoWords · 15/04/2016 20:14

Yes, I usually think about the bechdel test when I'm watching films, depressing though it is. I also think about the depth of the female characters and how they are portrayed. My DP is very used to the occasional ranty diatribe about these things mid-film.

Sgtmajormummy · 15/04/2016 20:14

DS always listens out for the famous scream (Heimlich??).
I try to see Walt Disney citations.
But that's about it.

FaithAscending · 15/04/2016 20:17

Yup, once you're aware of it your awareness can't be undone! I lean towards things that do pass the Bechdel test. My friend told me about it when we watched Pitch Perfect (Love that film!).

TormundGiantsbabe · 15/04/2016 20:20

My sister and I have a contest between us about who can recognise/spot the most actors in a show from other shows.

I also like to keep an eye out for intertextuality (or whatever it's called when it's on film). For example Agents of SHIELD (season 1 especially) is full of Buffy stuff.

readingrainbow · 15/04/2016 20:22

I read a tumblr once that explained in detail why movies/tv shows are directed and shot the way they are. It's very scientific; every camera angle and movement is planned out to the minutest detail. The screen is divided into 9 sections, and the eye is drawn to specific areas of the screen more quickly than others, and once you know all this it is easy to see boobs/ass/hips framed very specifically to attract the attention of the viewer. A classic example is Scarlett Johansson in the Avengers. There is a scene where she is holding two sticks or pipes or something, and in order to keep her hips and boobs in the right quadrants, she was forced to tilt her head to remain in the shot.

Basically, every image we see is manufactured in order to elicit a specific response. It's fascinating and slightly worrying!

Teacaddy · 15/04/2016 20:26

Of course. The Bechdel test isn't exactly a new thing, and you'd have to be lobotomised not to be aware of the type-casting of actors. Imagine a film that had Melissa McCarthy as a straight romantic lead, with Cameron Diaz as her single best friend, but they never discuss the male lead at all, but spend the entire film talking about a subplot relating to their jobs. Or a rom com where the male lead did absolutely nothing throughout the film other than obsess about the female lead.

I think the most feminist thing I've seen recently on the small screen was the bits of otherwise uninteresting The Night Manager where Olivia Coleman's driven agent was stumping through the corridors of power/glamorous international hotels being very, very pregnant, completely defined by her commitment to her job, and with a vaguely protective relationship to be her barely-glimpsed husband and to the glamorous male lead. Plus it was surprisingly gratifying to see a heavily pregnant woman breaking into a safe and shooting a nasty henchman.

Cinderbloom · 15/04/2016 20:37

There was a good AIBU about women on movie posters not long ago. They always look inane or scared, never frowning or having any gravitas.

The new Star Wars was very disappointing. Ren is such a great character but it still failed and she's not even prominent in the merchandise.

parissont · 15/04/2016 20:44

The new Star wars passed the Bechtel test.

Ray and the bar owner

AdrenalineFudge · 15/04/2016 20:49

Yup, once you're aware of it your awareness can't be undone!

Yes to this Faith, I now watch films with all these issues in mind and ready to break out into a rant. I notice it even in the films my toddler niece watches ffs!

OP posts:
Cinderbloom · 15/04/2016 20:56

Oh, sorry, they were talking about men, but not in a romantic context so yes, it passes.

FaithAscending · 15/04/2016 21:31

Teacaddy apparently in the book that part was male. I loved her in that role, like you say, so good to see a driven, strong female in a Beeb drama.

SandyMumsnet · 19/05/2016 16:27

Hi everyone,
Just moving this thread into films, OP please do shout if this is a problem for you.Flowers

sellotape12 · 22/05/2016 19:07

Actually I do.
As an aside, we recently watched all of S1 Peaky Blinders and both noticed SPOILER how during the love scene, the camera exclusively on the girl.
It was as if the viewer was being invited to ogle her. It also meant no one was able to ogle Cillian Murphy mind Hmm

NotCitrus · 22/05/2016 21:46

Yes - once you start noticing, you can't stop. It makes the few films or programmes that don't come from that perspective much appreciated. The Night Manager, London Spy, and Ripper Street all stood out in the last year for making an effort to have some women 'just doing things' rather than just being eye candy or there to be a spurious plot excuse by having violence done to them.

I was dreading ds outgrowing CBeebies which isn't unproblematic but so much less stereotypically sexist than most dramas aimed at kids, so while I never thought I'd be grateful for Stampy's endless Minecraft videos, it could be so much worse. Even if only one of the co-presenters is a woman, so Bechdel fail.

Saw the Angry Birds movie this weekend which is much better than I'd feared, in fact enjoyable, but only one female character out of about 10 significant characters. It glared. At least BBC quiz shows are now making real efforts to get women on - HIGNFY seems always to have one now, and QI now has a female host as well so might manage a majority of women sometime soon. I predict critics will claim them that it's no longer funny, which should be untrue as the episode I saw filmed was much better than recent ones with Stephen Fry.

FraggleMountain · 25/07/2016 01:03

Coming a bit late to this, but I was thinking of it this weekend when watching star trek. It was so bloody obvious! Uhura running around in a mini skirt waiting to be rescued. They had tried to update the story with one new female character, but that just made it obvious how all the ones we are supposed to relate to and care about are men.

As many have pointed out, once you put the bechdel glasses on you can't go back

logosthecat · 10/08/2016 09:25

Another 'yes absolutely!' answer from me.

I have no patience with the 'you're reading too much in, why can't you just enjoy it?' attitude, particularly as these days it seems to be increasingly attached to (often gendered) Fanboy attitudes that take umbrage at perfectly legitimate claims about the way that women, BME actors, gay actors are treated. I just see it as anti-intellectual, anti-diversity, and (to be honest) as a bit patronising to film, assuming that it's somehow the equivalent of a kind of disposable razor that you use once and then bin.

I think some people get very upset and disturbed by the fact that someone has seen something in a movie that they didn't see and, rather than engage with that person and their ideas, they just deny that it ought to be read that way or get enraged that someone is demanding that they see it in a new way. (Why we are so pathetically fragile about our childish impulses in such a privileged society is an interesting question - I reckon Freud would have a few things to say). It's particularly bad with nostalgic films that tap into an established male fan culture - the furore over the casting of Ghostbusters with women is a great example.

MikeandLor · 31/03/2017 16:43

Absolutely important! If only because you suddenly notice how many things, films, TV shows etc. FAIL the test! Passing it can be rare, and really it shouldn't be all that hard!

Ghost In The Shell does pass it - just - with Scarlett Johansson and Juliette Binoche. But GitS (great acronym, by the way) is pretty genderless when it comes to Scarlett's character - seeing as she is a brain in a cyborg body - so that's an extra twist to it.

sniffle12 · 02/04/2017 17:53

Definitely important!

What we need is more films that aren't specifically about women passing the Bechdel test.

I.e. Bridesmaids - is a film about women and female friendship anchored by multiple female leads, so you'd hope it passes the Bechdel test! Similarly with Pitch Perfect.

What we also need is more blockbusters and general films, e.g. Star Wars and the like to pass the test.

And on that note, throwing in one strong female lead per blockbuster (who is otherwise surrounded by men and constantly proves she is 'just as good as the men') isn't female representation!

Riversleep · 02/04/2017 19:26

I was reading something about the spate of live action Disney films recently, and they sad that Cinderella had 60% female dialogue! I think it was lower than in the cartoon. So a film essentially about 4 women with some Incidental male parts had 60% female dialogue? Obviously its about a handsome prince so its unreasonable to expect it to pass the Bechdel test Grin

BagelGoesWalking · 05/04/2017 01:04

Absolutely, yes! With a DD now 17 we've been talking about this for a few years.

We've been watching the Buffy Top 20 and we just discussing tonight that it was groundbreaking for its time, showed a young woman as strong, don't think they ever talk about makeup or hair (even though most characters are pretty "perfect") but there is enough variety in looks and body shapes (not talking about the fact that some are vampires and demons!)

Also, how males and females are friends, not just boyfriend/girlfriend relationships etc.

However, I do get that major films have to appeal to a hugely wide audience. Ghost in the Shell would never have got such a huge budget with an Asian woman in the lead role. It's still considered too much of a risk, although latest Star Wars & Rogue One show a lot more diversity and were still huge hits (even though being Star Wars it was pretty much guaranteed to be a success). The filmmakers have to consider a world-wide audience as well, not just their domestic market. I always remember the story about John Boyega's character/face on the posters for the Chinese/Asian market being made much smaller than on European/USA posters because of attitudes to black people in those countries.

I think it's still a numbers game, the millions in the budget mean the money men are very risk averse, even though, in reality, I think audiences are actually much more accepting, if the film is good.

QuestionableMouse · 05/04/2017 01:09

No. Films are my escape. I try not to notice things like that... I think enough about them in my writing!

StVincent · 05/04/2017 08:24

Can we send this memo to all big film studios everywhere?

"Throwing in one strong female lead per blockbuster (who is otherwise surrounded by men and constantly proves she is 'just as good as the men') isn't female representation!"

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