Fiction influences us daily. The stories and characters we watch in film and television all have the ability to inspire. Within the film industry, women have been making waves as directors, writers and producers. But often, female characters have been written and portrayed in ways that raise problems. If, that is, they even feature at all. Film tests are useful ways of determining just how inclusive a piece of fiction is.
In 2016, a study was done by Hanah Anderson and Matt Daniels, in which they looked at 2,000 screenplays and broke them down by gender and age. They found that men occupy the main speaking roles in 82% of films. And this is within all genres, Disney and rom coms included.
The analysis of film and fiction to point out discrepancy in gender bias and discrimination takes many forms, with the Bechdel test being one of the most well-known. But there are plenty of film tests you can use to see how female characters, or actresses, are treated. Included in this list are also tests to measure LGBTQ and POC representation.
Here are some feminist film tests you can apply to your favourite, or not, films and TV shows.
the Bechdel- Wallace
- First coined by Alisson Bechdel and Liz Wallace in 1985. Media industry studies show that films which pass the Bechdel test perform better financially than those which don’t.
- To pass, a film must have firstly, more than two (named) female characters. Secondly, they have a conversation together, which, thirdly, is about something other than men.
Roxane Gay’s Revised Bechdel
- A woman’s story is being told, she is not relegated to be a sidekick or romantic interest. Her world is populated with intelligent women who also have stories worth telling, even if they’re not the focus of the movie.
- Furthermore, if she engages in a romantic storyline, she doesn’t have to compromise her sanity or common sense for love.
- At least half the time, this woman needs to be a woman of colour and/or a transgender woman and/or a queer woman. Her story should not focus solely on this difference.
- She cannot live in an inexplicably perfect apartment in an expensive city with no visible means of affording said inexplicably perfect apartment.
- She doesn’t have to live up to an unrealistic feminist standard (she can and should be human). The characters just needs to be intelligent and witty and interesting in the way women, the world over are.
The Mako Mori
- Formulated by Tumblr user ‘Chaila’, and having since made its way into film discussion and criticism, the test is named after the only significant female character in the 2013 film, Pacific Rim.
- To pass, a film must have at least one female character with her own narrative that is not about supporting the male lead.
- No female character is assaulted, violated or abused for the sole purpose of furthering another (male) character’s storyline.
The Sexy Lamp Test
- Writer of the ‘Captain Marvel’ movie and comic book writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick proposed the sexy lamp test.
- The film must feature a female character that cannot be removed from the plot and replaced with a sexy lamp without ruining the story/plot.
- “They (female characters) have to be protagonists, not devices.”
the Vito Russo test
- Created by LGBTQ organisation GLAAD, this test was devised to measure the representation of LGBTQ characters in fiction.
- The film features an identifiably LGBTQ or transgender character, however, they are not solely defined by their sexuality/gender, nor are they disposable to the plot.
the DuVernay test
- Named for director Ava DuVernay by Manohla Dargis in 2016.
- The film features people of colour who have fully realized roles/lives, rather than serving as ‘background’ or stock characters.
- Existing in fiction, media, politics and the workplace, tokenism is applicable to many different places.
- Token characters that are easily disposable to the narrative and are there to comply with modern standards. These are usually background stereotypes of ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality. Such as, the token black, gay, Jewish or female character.
The ‘Damsel in Distress’
- Helpless women who are dependent on being saved by the male hero. Thus, gender-orientated characterization that doesn’t give the characters real personalities or narratives.
The Smurfette Principal
- Coined in 1991 by Katha Pollitt, who wrote: “a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female, stereotypically defined…Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys.”
- One female character in a male dominated world, who only exists in relation to men.
- This applies to wide media practices in distinguishing male and female roles.
What are some of your favourite films or shows that pass these tests?