The Bechdel Test is a means to get a reasonable guess as to the treatment of women in any given movie. To pass it, a movie must
- Have at least two named, female characters
- Who talk to each other
- About something other than a man.
That seems really simple, but it’s shocking how few films actually pass it.
However, it’s also very important to note that failing it doesn’t make the movie bad, or even suggest that the movie treats women as decoration. As a friend of mine noted, the Bechdel Test is sort of like the BMI for movies: superficially useful, but a crappy way to measure the whole effort. The current poster child for this issue is Pacific Rim, which fails the Bechdel, but features a deeply fleshed out female character (Mako Mori) who has a distinct and independent narrative arc that isn’t dependent on a male character.
To address this, a new test — the Mako Mori Test — has been proposed. A film passes the MMT if it has
- at least one female character
- who gets her own narrative arc
- that is not about supporting a man’s story.
It’s not quite as pithy — Bechdel was initially formulated as something like a joke pointing out how male-dominated film is — but it’s probably more accurate.