While women might not be faring well behind cameras, on camera it pays to have the presence of women. How can one measure the presence of women on screen? What makes a film feminist? Is a token appearance or a one-off line by a female character enough?
Enter the Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori Test. Both are tests/tools that can be used to indicate the presence of women in the film you are watching. Neither test necessarily indicates that the film is feminist, they merely indicate the role of women in the particular story you are watching, and might suggest whether or not the female characters are well rounded, engaging, dynamic, or just tired old stereotypes.
They are not perfect tools, however. Neither test take into account other important factors, like the involvement of people of colour in a film, LGBTQ2S characters, nor do they address the women involved behind the camera. This last point in particular is interesting–did you know that that the following “chick flicks” were directed by a man?:
- Sex & the City: The Movie
- Sex & the City 2
- The Notebook
- Dirty Dancing
- The Devil Wears Prada
- Pride & Prejudice (2005)
- Mean Girls
This isn’t to say that these films aren’t enjoyable for women, not important, should only be directed by women, or not necessarily feminist. It just goes to show that even when women are on screen and passing the two tests to best discussed shortly, their stories are still told by men in a lot of ways.
The Bechdel Test was invented by Alison Bechdel in her 1985 comic Dykes to Watch Out For. It is based on three simple questions:
- Does the film have at least two female characters who have names?
- Do these two female characters talk to each other?
- Do these two female characters talk to each other about something other than a man?
In 2012, feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian suggested a fourth caveat for the test:
- 4. Do the female characters talk to each other about something other than a man for more than sixty seconds?
The Mako Mori test is relatively new compared to the Bechdel Test. It came to life in 2013 following the release of Pacific Rim. A tumblr user, spider-xan, whose real name remains unknown, made the test to honor Rinko Kikuchi’s character in the film (the eponymous Mako Mori). Kikuchi’s character evidently merited a nod that the Bechdel Test couldn’t provide, with Mako Mori being the only notable woman in the film, but had no other women to really talk to. To recognize the value of her story, spider-xan proposed a similar three-question test:
- Does the film have at least one female character?
- Does this female character get her own narrative arc?
- Is this narrative arc not about supporting a man’s story?
Neither test is perfect, but both provide an excellent way to start thinking about and discussing the role of women on screen.
With our very own festival, many of the films showing in this year’s program do not pass both tests. Behind the camera is where our festival really focuses on the presence of women. For a film to qualify for our festival, women must hold three key creative positions including: director, producer, editor, cinematographer, lead actor, writer, or composer. All of the films selected are certainly engaging and would appeal to people of all genders–guess you’ll just have to check out the festival to see for yourself.