Beyond the Bechdel Test: Two (New) Ways of Looking at Movies
For years the Bechdel Test has been the standard for pop culture fans looking for a simple way to gauge a movie's gender diversity. But pop culture fans and critics are creating new ways to expand on it and grade character types on the silver screen.
For years the Bechdel Test has been the standard for pop culture fans looking for a simple way to gauge a movie's gender diversity. But pop culture fans and critics are creating new ways to expand on it and grade character types on the silver screen. Today, GLAAD, formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, released its first Studio Responsibility Index and an accompanying Vito Russo Test for portrayals of LGBT characters. Named after the late GLAAD co-founder and film historian, the Vito Russo Test requires films meet the following criteria:
- The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT).
- That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another).
- The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline; the character should matter.
GLAAD's Studio Responsibility Index found that 14 movies released in 2012 had lesbian, gay or bisexual characters, but only 6 passed the Vito Russo Test, compared to the estimated 200 films that met the Bechdel Test that same year.
Another test, The Mako Mori test, was born out of Tumblr sci-fi fan girl discussions and can be thought of as a Bechdel Test Lite. Named after the sole female lead in this summer's monster blockbuster Pacific Rim — which, not incidentally, failed the Bechdel Test itself — the Mako Mori Test proposed by a Tumblr user looks for movies that have "a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story." Mako Mori's storyline was the result of conscious decision on director Guillermo Del Toro's part create a powerful female character. "...I wanted a female lead who has the equal force as the male leads," del Toro told The Star last month. In addition to Mako Mori's strength and competence, many fans also cheered the film's representation of Mori as a woman of color. As another Tumblr user wrote:
It’s really easy to throw away a film because of that test (which is flawed and used incorrectly in a lot of ways) if you’re a white woman and can easily find other films with white women who look like you and represent you... But as an East Asian woman, someone like Mako — a well-written Japanese woman who is informed by her culture without being solely defined by it, without being a racial stereotype, and gets to carry the film and have character development — almost NEVER comes along in mainstream Western media.
The Mako Mori test arguably doesn't demand as much from a film as the Bechdel test, but it does ask Bechdel fans to be more open to movies with nuanced female characters...even if there's only one of them.