WRITING WRONGS: The 18 Percent


Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

By Bella Levaggi

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong
Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

What do “The Avengers,” “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained” and “The Hobbit” all have in common? Yes, they were all successful feature films, garnering critical praise and monetary success. But they share another similarity: none of them pass the Bechdel Test.

While the structure of a written column prevents me from whipping out my trusty visual aids and colorful flowcharts to define this little known term, the simple gist of the Bechdel test (which feminist comic strip creator Alison Bechdel popularized in 1985) is a three-part set of guidelines by which gender representation in films and television shows is judged.

First, there must be at least two named female characters (“Django” and “The Hobbit fail here). Second, the two must have a conversation (this hurdle trips up “Lincoln and “The Avengers”). Third, they have to talk about something other than other male characters. These parameters seem easy to pass, right? So why does Hollywood keep getting an F in female representation?

In 2012, only four of the top ten grossing movies managed to meet the criteria. Of the 232 movies released that year, Revolution Analytics speculates that no more than half passed the test—and the site makes it clear that this is a more than generous estimate.

At this point you may be posing one of two questions. Likely, it’s either “How can this happen?” or “Why is this a problem?”

The short answers are a picture of me shaking my fist while muttering “the patriarchy,” and an eyeroll, respectively. However, the long answers are more thought-provoking and worthy of an entire column.

To answer the first question, apart from Congress, Hollywood is arguably one of the most male-dominated sectors in the U.S. According to “Miss Representation,”—aka the best documentary in the entire world—women held only 18 percent of all positions as directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors in the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2011.

What this means is that my odds of getting into Harvard are only marginally worse than my odds of me becoming a screenplay writer.

With 82 percent of these powerful jobs held by men, it’s a horribly obvious train of logic that they’re going to create content that reflects themselves, their backgrounds and their value sets.

That’s by no means a dig at the white men in these positions; I realize how much easier—and safer—it is to write and create work that reflects ourselves.

But there’s a really simple solution here: hire more diverse writers, directors, producers, editors and cinematographers. I promise you, the results would be mindblowing because a new wealth of backgrounds adds myriad fresh ideas to the lazy cesspool of blockbuster action-flicks and unnecessary sequels.

If Hollywood changes things up, we’re not necessarily going to end up with more of those movies classified as “chick flicks.” I agree that many of these films are bad, but that’s because they’re often clichéd, lacking in diversity, and poorly written, not because they’re for girls. Any of the testosterone-fueled “Fast and Furious” movies are equally as bad, from a quality of content perspective.

It’s not about the audience; these Hollywood executives shouldn’t think that women only want boring, trope-ridden romantic comedies. Trust me, we like well-crafted media and well-crafted media likes us.

Look at a show like “Orange is the New Black,” or a movie like “Bridesmaids.” Not only do they smash the Bechdel Test to smithereens, but they’ve garnered great reviews and ratings.

I like Laura Prepon’s Alex Vause and Kristin Wiig’s Annie Walker because they’re real. My dad likes these characters for the exact same reason. This is proof that you can create shows or movies that are centered around women who are strong and intelligent and emotionally charged (I know, it’s such a revolutionary concept) that will appeal to everyone.

Hollywood needs to end the notion that equates female protagonists with boring or shallow protagonists. Because guess what? Women are neither boring nor shallow.

And to answer the second question: the Bechdel Test and its implications matter because they expose the blatantly sexist agenda of these industries. It should be obvious enough that a few movies here and there that adequately represent fifty percent of the population while nearly all films put a spotlight the other half is by no means fair. Like, kindergarten-obvious.

We all want to see ourselves onscreen, to project our own dreams onto heroes destined for a happy ending that involves saving the world instead of just landing a husband.