Bechdel Testing the Oscars

This week, as Oscar fever heats up and the red carpet is rolled out, and the leading ladies are donning their pretty frocks, I thought it might be a good time to have a bit of a look at the portrayal of women in Hollywood.

Over at Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstien asks why there is so little recognition for women working in the film industry: To the Academy: Consider the Women.

Could it be because of this? “Old white blokes get to decide who the Oscars go to”

Of the 5765 voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

94 per cent were white, 77 per cent men and their average age was 62, with only 14 per cent under 50. Black and Hispanic voters accounted for only 2 per cent each.

On a similar note, Sociological Images looks at the breakdown of those who vote for the Oscars: “Who are the Oscars voters?”

And at Feminist Frequency, video-blogger Anita Sarkeesian applies the “Bechdel Test” to the 2012 Oscars:


(Transcript of the video available here)

I’ve mentioned the Bechdel Test before. It’s a fairly simple test to gauge the presence and significance of female characters in a film.
1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

Sarkeesian concludes that of the nine films nominated for Best Film, only two clearly pass the Bechdel Test. Interestingly, she then uses a modified version of the test to examine the portrayal of non-white characters in Hollywood films.

This was first devised by blogger Alaya Johnson at The Angry Black Woman: The Bechdel Test and Race in Popular Fiction.

To pass this test, a film/television series/book must meet the following simple rules:
1. It has to have two people of colour in it.
2. Who talk to each other.
3. About something other than a white person.

Not surprisingly, Sarkeesian discovers that the Oscar nominees for this year don’t fare too well. She argues that even a film such as The Help, about the civil rights movement in the 1960s, only just scrapes through. It passes the original Bechdel test, but is problematic when it comes to the modified version.

As Sarkeesian notes:

The percentage of films that pass the modified test is extremely small, even a movie like The Help which stars multiple named women of colour in prominent roles, passes by the narrowest of margins because characters are almost always talking to or about white people.

This variation of the test exposes the fact that Hollywood still basically refuses to make movies for a general audience that focuses on the lives of people of colour, unless it also stars a sympathetic white character.

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2 Responses to “Bechdel Testing the Oscars”

  1. katura Says:

    It gets pretty depressing when you start putting movies to the test like this.

    Have you seen this? http://youtu.be/Bo40Kwn1I-I

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