Take a moment to think of the last movie you saw. Did it have:
- Two women with names
- who had a conversation
- about something other than a man?
If so, it passes the three-point Bechdel Test, named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who featured the concept in her cartoon strip in the 1980s (she says a friend came up with the idea).
I shared this video with my coworker and film critic for Christianity Today, Jeff Overstreet, and he noticed that many of the movies that don't pass muster are kids' movies. Of the top-grossing family movies in 2010, Alice in Wonderland and Despicable Me pass; Toy Story 3, Twilight: Eclipse, and Karate Kid squeak by; and How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, Iron Man 2, and The Last Airbender flat-out flunk, according to this user-generated list.
Of the feature films put out by Pixar (arguably the high cultural watermark of family films) only three out of ten—The Incredibles, A Bug's Life, and (barely) Toy Story 3—pass.
The Bechdel Test can't tell you if a movie is well-made, funny, or even portrays women in a positive light. But it can tell you that substantive female characters are often absent from the movies most of us are watching. What's more, so are depictions of substantive female friendship.
When I think back to the Disney princesses who entranced me as a kid in the late '80s and early '90s, the Bechdel Test makes me realize how isolated the protagonists were from other women. Ariel of The Little Mermaid literally lost her ability for conversation in her encounter with the other main female character, Ursula, in a conversation about how to get a man. Would her story have been different if she'd talked over her decision with her sisters or her (nonexistent) mother? Princess Jasmine ...1
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