Looking Beyond the Bechdel: 5 Tests that Examine Equality in Film

by Patty Affriol


Most people have heard of the Bechdel test. It’s a popular, three-step model that examines how under-represented women are in films and TV. The criteria is simple but an absurd number of films don’t pass. The test: 1) The movie must have two named female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. Popular films like the Social Network and Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows  fall short. Actually, most films fail Bechdel, which is a definite eye opener. But is it enough in gauging how progressive a film is?

The Bechdel is certainly effective at exposing films’ lack of female representation. However, it doesn’t look into the type of roles women and people of color are given and how their characters develop throughout the plot. Some movies that are considered pro-women do not pass, such as the Girl with Dragoon Tattoo and Pacific Rim, as per BUST. It is important that other tests are considered that examine the complexity of what it takes for a film to be diverse. Luckily, there are five other tests that capture this depth.


The New Girl

1) The Racial Bechdel Test: Same criteria as the Bechdel Test but instead examines diversity in films: 1) Two named characters of color 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a white person. Just like the original Bechdel, it seems simple, but most films fail, such as the popular Game of Thrones series. Whereas the popular FOX sitcom New Girl  barely passes, as discussed in on RacialBechdelTumblr. This test is extremely important at revealing how poorly represented people of color are in film, as this year’s Oscars failed to nominate any people of color!


Sexy Lamp


2) The Sexy Lamp Test: Remember the Sexy Lamp from the Christmas Story? The leg-shaped lamp dressed in a sexy fishnet stocking that just existed to look seductive. Well, that is the basis for the Sexy Lamp Test. If a woman in a film can be replaced by a sexy lamp and the plot does not change, then the movie fails the test, miserably. Of course, films like Ted  don’t pass but even quality films like Oscar-winning, No Country for Old Men fail because none of the women in the film undergo any character development. They remain static figures and have no effect on the overall plot. This sexualized passivity is unfortunately common in film, as discussed by Haley Mitchell.

While many films that I would label as progressive like the Avengers don’t pass the Bechdel, they certainly pass the Sexy Lamp. But that is not saying much—the bar is set absurdly low. It’s pretty clear that if a movie doesn’t pass the Sexy Lamp that there is a serious issue with the writing and desperate reform is needed.


Mako Mori


3) The Mako Mori Test: A film passes if the movie has: a) at least one female character b) who gets her own story arc c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. This test was named after the main character in Pacific Rim. Despite Mako being a well-informed, independent, and fully developed character, the movie fails the Bechdel Test because there is only one female character. The Mako Mori test was created because many people felt that it shouldn’t be automatically disqualified as a feminist film. The test was proposed “to live alongside the Bechdel,” as discussed in Daily Dot. While the Bechdel is focused on representation, the Mako Mori is centered on female autonomy and character development, per BUST.


Love and Basketball


4) The DuVernay Test: Named after Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma. A film passes if people of color and other minorities are developed as well-rounded characters rather than serve as background characters to a white plot line. Films such as Belle, Love and Basketball, and Pursuit of Happyness pass but sadly minorities are caricatures in many movies. For example, the characters in Dances with Wolves, Big Daddy, and White Chicks promote racial stereotypes rather than challenge them with narratives that include fully realized characters, per the New York Times.


Mad Max


5) The Furiosa Test: A film passes if people get mad about it being feminist over the internet. Named after Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie that passes Sexy Lamp, Bechdel, and Mako Mori. During the movie, 12 different female characters are onscreen at the same time, and not one of them is talking about a man. But this phenomenon did not go down without a fight. People had tantrums over Twitter over how pro-women the film was. Thus, the Furiosa Test was born, qualifying Ghostbusters and the upcoming remake of Oceans 11. The test is initially laughable over its simplicity, but power has never been taken easily.

These five tests offer a full scope of criteria to help people examine film and television. Each test has it merits and limitations and all should be used in combination to examine films and advocate for reform. 

More From BUST

5 Holiday Movies That Pass The Bechdel Test

5 Movies from 2013 That Shouldn’t Have Passed the Bechdel Test

8 YA Novels Written By Women That Pass The Bechdel Test

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