Does your favorite movie pass “the” test?

Love movies? Ok, here’s an activity for you. Make a list of 5 movies you watched recently. Done? Good. Now, if you were to find a fault with each of those movies, what would that be? When asked this question, most of us would usually complain about the faulty story, or stupid dialogues but nothing more than that. You see, sometimes, when we keep seeing something over and over again, it kinda becomes normal to us, the mistakes seem nothing out of the ordinary. We turn blind to blatant errors in movies, simply because we have gotten used to seeing that.

And that’s exactly the reason why none of us ever seem to raise any hue and cry over the disturbing gender inequality that has existed in movies forever. We complain about so many things in a movie, but somehow this gender gap never seems to catch our eye. Am I right or am I right?

Oh, you can stop scowling now. True, one or two movies pop up now and then, where women have strong roles and have something important to contribute to the story. But come on, really, most of the times, it’s like the Sun, the Moon, the Earth and why, even God, revolved around our heroes don’t you think? And we gobble it all up, along with popcorn, samosas and coke, because..sigh..we have got used to seeing this and we don’t realize it could be any different.

It was after seeing my post on Bahubali’s women, an awesome friend of mine let me know of something called Bechdel test, which actually tests for the gender equality in movies. Hollywood actually uses this test to find out how many movies are women centric. (That’s just to tell you this test is genuine, not to tell you Hollywood is the Holy Grail of movie production.) So, now about the test. The Bechdel test is deliciously simple. It has just 3 criteria. To pass the test  –

  1. The movie has to have at least two women characters in it (preferably named).
  2. who talk to each other (for a minimum of 60 seconds)
  3. about something else beside a man.

Sounds simple, right? Now, go back to your list of movies and see for yourself how many have passed the gender equality test. Not as simple as it sounds, heh? 🙂

I applied this test to 10 of my all time favorite Indian movies and just 2 passed. It was sad that it seemed such a big task to find a movie where two named women talked to each other, and what was even worse was that even if I were to find a movie where two women talked, they almost always spoke about men! The Bechdel test clearly shows that movies never get to the depth of women’s stories.

Now, in all honesty, don’t you think our Indian movies seem to give the impression that it’s a man’s world out there, and women mainly exist to think about their man or support the victory of their man? They ignore the fact that women have brain as well and that they use it for other factors than thinking about their men all the time. Women joke with their friends, they share their struggles with their friends, their job life, they speak about sports, literacy, basic issues, food, and so many stuff that is definitely not men related! I guess this is unfathomable to movie directors. I mean, I can understand if it’s a love story. But what about other genres? The fact is, gender equality is really depressing in movies, and we as audience don’t actually care about it.

Here’s something for you to ponder. According to a 2014 study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, in 120 films made worldwide from 2010 to 2013, only 31% of named characters were female, and 23% of the films had a female protagonist or co-protagonist. Females were over two times as likely as males to be shown in sexually revealing attire (24.8% vs. 9.4%), thin (38.5% vs. 15.7%), and partially or fully naked (24.2% vs. 11.5%). Appearance comments were directed at females (13.1%) five times as frequently as males (2.6%). {Read the full report [1] for more interesting information}. Makes you sick to the stomach, doesn’t it?

The movies we have now, do have lovely heroines in them, whose role, they say, holds “equal” importance as the hero’s, but come on, try removing her character and the story will not be affected a bit! Now, try doing that to the hero, and you will see the difference. In 2012, comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, proposed a different test for female characters, that became known as the sexy lamp test: “If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.”. You know, I wonder whether a movie will ever be released, if by any chance our movie writers/directors decided to apply this test..

Anyway. Here’s an idea to end this discussion. While dissing or appreciating a movie we saw recently, either on our FB posts  or on our movie review sites, why not we make sure to ALWAYS mention whether they passed the Bechdel test for gender equality or not? This way, more people will be aware of gender inequality in movies. (btw, I plan to start a movie review site soon, let’s see). Instead of accepting gender gap as it is, let’s try and evoke a change.

Oscar Wilde put it rightly, “Life imitates Art more than Art imitates Life”. When women are always shown as weak damsels, scared of family, scared to fall in love, scared to fall out of love, and helpless in all situations…men tend to think of them that way. Show her as ferocious, bold, independent women, let them also have some fight scenes, what’s wrong in that? I can only remember the little 8 year old who was sitting in front of me in theater, watching Thani Oruvan with his family. I wonder how many films he is going to watch in his lifetime, all with men being brave saviors and women being lovely supporters. I wonder what he grows up thinking about women and his expectations of them. I really wonder.

[1] http://seejane.org/wp-content/uploads/gender-bias-without-borders-full-report.pdf

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