So I went to Comic Con and I saw a room full of feminists!
This is a first for this blog: Instead of doing a review, I am writing about a film related topic that is especially pertinent to the theme of Feminist Film Reviews. I attended Salt Lake Comic Con this weekend, including a panel all about the Bechdel test.
As someone who loves film and keeps the Bechdel test and other standards in my mind as I watch film and read articles, nothing brand new was presented to me. However, this panel was a fantastic and needed addition to a convention that focuses on genres seriously lacking in female representation.
One criticism of the Bechdel test is it is so minimal. Can it really accomplish anything? Does passing the Bechdel test say anything about the quality of the film or the representations of the female characters? Honestly, the Bechdel test is incredibly minimal. All it takes to pass is two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than a man. Simple. And no, passing doesn’t have any bearing on the quality of the film or treatment of the female characters, which is why in addition to my section on the Bechdel test in my reviews, I also discuss the overall treatment of women. But, the Bechdel test is a conversation starter. It forces you to ask, “It is so easy and seemingly intuitive to write stories that pass the Bechdel test. So why did this film fail? Why do so many fail?”
One of the major problems in Hollywood–and this was addressed in the panel–is that stories about white males are considered the default story that everyone can relate to. A white male is considered normal, while women and people of color are considered specialized or abnormal. This is obviously a problem because most people are NOT white males. It’s important to remember that all stories matter, including those of white males. But those stories are plentiful, and you can see a white male in almost any role imaginable. But those stories do not trump those of everyone else. Those stories are not representative of the overall population, and not everyone can relate to them. Unfortunately, Hollywood envisions white men as the ideal audience, despite the spending power of women and all people of color.
The panel went on to discuss the roles of women in film when there actually are female characters. One thing that often occurs is, a writer or director or whomever will include a “strong female character” and act as thought that’s enough so all those crazy feminist filmgoers should just shut up now. The problem is, one female character is not enough when women make up about 50 percent of the world population. Additionally, the “strong female character” is just as much a trope as the damsel in distress. She is still one-dimensional and exists to push the plot of the man’s story forward. She doesn’t really like other women and falls into the trap of insulting men by calling them girly or some form of that tired insult. She is basically a stereotypical sexist man in a woman’s body. The “strong female character” isn’t enough because male characters get to be strong and crazy and weak and intelligent and funny and scary and dumb and ugly and mean and kind and loving and lovable all at once, while women are confined to either being strong or weak, a virgin or a whore. Female characters are continually defined by one narrow trait. Maybe it’s considered a good trait, maybe it’s considered a bad trait–but it’s still only one.
Anyone who has been following this blog for the last two years or so that is has existed will notice that films I’ve reviewed that are written by women tend to have a more balanced story in terms of gender. This is a key observation. The panel ended with the question, “How do we make it better?” The answer: have more women writing and directing films. Generally speaking, women do not write films that cast men into one-dimensional characters who never seem to interact with other men. Instead, the representation of both genders is more balanced and nuanced. Men and women interact in non-degrading ways. Women are well-rounded characters who associate with other women and have aspirations besides getting hitched. Men are also well-developed characters with stories of their own.
We need more women writers. We need more women directors. And when a movie doesn’t do well that happens to star women, we need to stop saying it’s bad because it starred women. This is another trend in Hollywood that is completely illogical. A movie that doesn’t do well in the box office starring men is just a bad movie. But a movie that doesn’t do well in the box office starring women, is bad because it stars women! And conversely, if a movie does extremely well and happens to star women it is considered a fluke! By that logic Bridesmaids, Frozen, Gravity, Lucy, Maleficent, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Divergent are all flukes. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot of flukes to me.
Ultimately, film is better when it features nuanced characters of all genders. Furthermore, films that pass the Bechdel test do better in the box office. So if Hollywood is concerned about
being sexist losing profits, maybe it should collectively consider that women’s stories matter–and people are willing to pay to see them.