“Hollywood” often has a liberal, left-leaning reputation.
But an interesting take on this is the Bechdel Test. It looks in particular at the female presence in a movie. It involves three simple requirements. The movie must have 1) at least two women, 2) who talk to each other at least once, 3) about something other than a man or men. Some versions of the test go a little further and ask that it’s two women with names, or two major female cast members. Notice that the test doesn’t say anything about whether the movie is any good, or what the women talk about outside of men, or how the movie portrays women. It’s only an indicator of the female presence in a movie. A badly done, boring movie that portrays women very negatively could still pass the test. A timeless classic with a great female character could still fail. All the test asks is whether the movie has enough female presence to let two women talk to each other about something other than men, at least once. It seems like a pretty low hurdle to jump, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t lots of movies pass?
Well, it turns out that lots of Hollywood movies fail the test – not just war movies, but also movies like Bambi, Shrek, Ghostbusters, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings (all three movies) and Toy Story.
How many movies should pass or fail the test? The answer is in the comparison. Flip the genders, and look at whether a movie includes 1) two men, 2) who talk to each other at least once, 3) about something other than a woman or women. If movies pass at about the same rate for both genders, the movie industry would seem evenhanded. If not, movies are overrepresenting one gender and underrepresenting the other.
Guess what. A lot more movies pass the “two men” test than the “two women” test. Try it yourself. Pick ten movies you’ve seen, or the next ten movies you watch, or pick from one of the AFI top American movie lists. Ask yourself which ones pass the male version of the two-character test and which ones pass the female version.
You’ll probably find a lot more male presence than female presence.
How about basing the test on race or some other ethnic group? You might consider a test like 1) two characters of a given race, 2) who talk to each other at least once, 3) about something other than a member of another race or race relations in general. Few movies pass … unless you’re talking about whites.
What would be fair for black representation vs. white representation? According to the 2010 US Census, the US is 72.4% white (“white alone”) and about 12.6% black (“black or African-American alone”). That’s about a 5.7 to 1 difference. In other words, if movies that pass a “two whites” test outnumber movies that pass a “two blacks” test by about 5 or 6 to 1, the movie biz represents blacks and whites fairly (in proportion to the overall population). If the results are very different from that, moviedom is lopsided.
Take the AFI Top 10 American Sports Movies, for example: Raging Bull, Rocky, The Pride of the Yankees, Hoosiers, Bull Durham, The Hustler, Caddyshack, Breaking Away, National Velvet, and Jerry Maguire. It seems to me that all ten pass a two whites test. Therefore, a result of two for the two blacks test would be the evenhanded result. As near as I can tell, 0 out of 10 pass. Lopsided.
What it comes down to is that mainstream movies are largely about white men, plus some others who interact with white men. Liberal, left-leaning Hollywood can still be very stodgy and old-school. Some would claim that movies just reflect what the public wants to see, but to me that’s like the excuse that “all the other kids were doing it,” as if that gets you off the hook for being unfair to someone.