Judging by the winners’ speeches at last Sunday’s Golden Globes, 2013 was a banner year for ladies in cinema — everyone from Amy Adams to Cate Blanchett praised their writers for including strong female roles.
But on closer look, many of the year’s best pictures fail the the most rudimentary test of gender equity in film. It’s called the “Bechdel test,” so named for its creator, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, and it has only three tenets: Does the film have at least two named women? Do they speak to each other? And do they speak about something that isn’t a man?
Not exactly a high bar, you’d think. But here, according to the database BechdelTest.com — which we’re deferring to, even in the case of debated classifications — is how this year’s Oscar nominees for best picture break down:
“Gravity” — FAIL
“Captain Phillips” — FAIL
“American Hustle” — PASS
“The Wolf of Wall Street” — FAIL
“12 Years a Slave” — FAIL
“Philomena” — PASS
“Dallas Buyers Club” — PASS
“Her” — FAIL
“Nebraska” — PASS
The two Golden Globe best picture nominees that didn’t receive Oscar nominations — “Rush” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” — both failed.
There’s actually a financial incentive for filmmakers to correct this problem; in early January, writers at Vocativ ran the numbers on the top-grossing films of 2013 and found that female-friendly movies usually fared better at the box office than those that marginalized women. Those top-performing films included movies like “Hunger Games” sequel “Catching Fire” and Disney’s animated feature “Frozen,” which have both been lauded for their portrayal of women.
Of course, all of this ignores the fact that the Bechdel test is actually an extremely low standard — a problem Slate’s Katy Waldman took up earlier this month. “This is happy news, mostly,” Waldman wrote about the box office success of Bechdel-pass movies. But at the same time, she says:
… the exercise is also—let’s be honest—a bit of a letdown. In 2014, we are still whooping with delight when movie studios depict a woman sharing a snippet of non-dude-focused conversation with another woman?
Waldman asked female writers for their suggestions on a new standard, which included more screen time for platonic male-female relationships and romantic story lines that don’t compromise the lady’s good sense. (We’d argue that the presence of women off-screen should count for something, too — we need women directors and screenwriters as much as we need women protagonists.) Not many Oscar nominees meet that bar … but a girl can dream!
For more on the Bechdel test and this year’s Oscar nominees, check out these cool charts at Al Jazeera America on how past nominees stack up — generally not much better than this year, it turns out.