In the US, movie ratings are about age-appropriateness of language, nudity, sex, or violence. In contrast to the typical movie-rating system, in Chapter 7 Media we introduced readers to the Bechdel Test whereby consumers can think about the extent to which movies (or other portrayals in popular culture) include women—are there two or more named women who talk with each other about topics other than men?
Four movie theaters in Sweden (one of our four sample countries) are now using the Bechdel Test to rate the movies they show (Guardian 2013). To get the top rating, a film has to meet all three criteria Allison Bechdel specified in 1995 in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For : (1) two named women; (2) the women talk to each other; and (3) they talk about topics other than men. Most films do not pass any part of the Bechdel Test.
Swedish cinema gave the film The Hunger Games, based on the Suzanne Collins’ book trilogy and starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a top rating. The second movie in the trilogy, Catching Fire, was released November 22, 2013 in the US and from the standpoint of Investigating Gender authors also passes the Bechdel Test. Katniss Everdeen talks with several other named women throughout the film about topics other than men. For example, Katniss and her sister Prim talk about hope; Katniss and Johanna about another Hunger Games winner Annie; and Katniss and Wiress about the shape of the arena.
From our perspective, the Bechdel Test is one approach to thinking about gender and films but is not a final statement. The Bechdel Test is a short-hand assessmentof gender inclusion but it is only marginally about gender portrayal. If women are not included, which is the case in two-thirds of the top 100 US films (Guardian 2013), then how they are portrayed is a moot point. For films that pass the Bechdel Test, how gender is characterized is a worthy topic for discussion. How is gender portrayed? Is gender inequality interrogated? Are intersections of gender, race, class, and sexuality explored? Do social justice efforts include struggles for justice in terms of gender or other dimensions of social inequality? For instance in Catching Fire, look for examples of gender equality (e.g. entrance into the Hunger Games; celebrity behavior and dress) and gender inequality (e.g. male dominated occupations of gamemakers and coal miners; the objectification/sexualization of female and male characters). Consider ways inwhich race and class intersect in Catching Fire —people of color are more likely to live in poorer districts and white people in wealthier districts; does the film’s portrayal of race challenge these arrangements? Can you find examples of ways in which gender intersects with race, class, and/or sexuality? Or ways in which references to rebellion and justice address gender, race, sexuality, as well as class?
The Bechdel Test is a quick way to raise the consciousness of filmgoers about gender inclusion. The Bechdel Test does not offer (nor was it intended to offer) a gender analysis of how gender is created and maintained in film, but it does get people talking about gender in film. For an ever-developing list of ratings of films based on the Bechdel Test, see the Bechdel Test Movie List website: http://bechdeltest.com .