Q3 The Bad Feminists

Summer 2018’s Films vs. the Bechdel Test

Q3 review five of this summer’s most popular films based on their Bechdel ratings and female representations.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

by Jessica Roberts

It was one of the biggest box office hits of the summer, but how well did Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again do when it comes to the representation of women? It’s no surprise that these questions are being asked, as the importance of representation has been increasingly stressed recently, with social media movements such as #OscarsSoWhite leading a backlash against an overwhelmingly straight, white and male media landscape.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again certainly falls short in terms of diversity, with an almost entirely white cast, and it takes knowledge of the previous film to identify the one gay character, but its female representation is where it shines.  The film passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, as it certainly has more than two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man.  In fact, the main catalyst character of the whole film is a woman, Donna Sheridan, who is the link between all the characters and is either at the heart of the action in the flashback sequences, or is being discussed by her friends and family in the present day.

What’s more, the female characters are far stronger than the male – the defining characteristic of Pierce Brosnan’s character, Sam, appears to be being in love with Donna, and Sophie’s relationship with Sky is thin and weak, probably due to Sky having no real personality. While the female characters certainly discuss men, their love lives and heartache, the film is ultimately focused on relationships between women.  Whether it’s the friendship and love Donna and her friends share with one another, or the rock-solid mother-and-daughter bond between Donna and Sophie, these are the relationships that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again really pours its heart into.

 

Ocean’s 8

by Lucy Aprahamian

There has already been Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen. At this point, what could possibly be original about yet another repetition of the same overly done concept? Oh, yes. An all-female team.

When I first saw the trailer for Ocean’s 8, I was worried we might end up with another Ghostbusters fiasco on our hands – whiny complaints about “ruined childhoods” dominating any discussion. However, a single short scene only twenty minutes in (and, in my opinion, the best part of this film) ensures there will be no such tragedy. In a discussion on whether to include “a him” into the team of brilliant cons, Sandra Bullock’s character simply says (spoiler alert), ‘A him gets noticed and a her gets ignored, and for once we want to be ignored.’ Not the couture dresses and diamonds but this line holds the true beauty of the whole production.

Ocean’s 8 easily passes the low bar of the Bechdel test and achieves so much more. To begin with, the cast is multi-cultural (and let’s take a moment to thank the Lords that for once the hacker is not played by the only Asian actress). Moreover, there are no ugly dramatic fights between women. No one falls in love and loses her mind. No female competition for dominance. When Ocean’s team meets a setback, it is solved through the power of strong female relationships and trust.

This is not to say that Hollywood has finally achieved the perfectly feminist script. We are introduced to a scorned woman motivated by her desire for revenge on her ex-boyfriend. Each lady in her con team is slim, able-bodied, traditionally beautiful and (to the best of our knowledge) heterosexual. I also wonder why it is the women of colour who keep getting disguised as genitors, waitresses and dish washers, while their white counterparts stroll along in shimmering gowns. However, the film certainly provides better representation than the majority of high-budget productions found in cinemas. It may not be perfect but it is a step in the right direction.

Hereditary

by Lucy John (Insta: @asfaraslucygoes)

Billed as ‘the scariest movie of the decade’ (aren’t they all?), Hereditary has divided opinion with both audiences and critics ever since it hit cinemas in June, so I was intrigued to see what the hype was all about.

The story is based around the aftermath of the death of the family matriarch – the maternal grandmother – and the legacy she leaves behind, including an inability to form healthy relationshps with your children. Hereditary’s female game is strong (it boasts a stellar female cast). In fact, it passes the feminist Bechdel test with flying colours. The two male characters move around the female protagonists like pawns in a chess game; existing only as accessories for the women – in more ways than one, as we find out later.

Despite a strong female representation, women aren’t cast in a good light. Without giving too much away, the breakdown of the family transpires from the evil passed down through the female bloodline…. and the film’s finale centres around male worship. All be it of the demon kind. Feminist points = 0.

Hereditary has all the ingredients of a good horror film – shadowy rooms, a soundtrack of screechy violins and a weird child who enjoys decapitating birds – but for me it never quite delivers. Or at least not as a horror.  Post-viewing research has revealed a host of (too) subtle details that make the film a whole lot more interesting but that the average viewer (i.e. me) will miss. If I watched it again, I would probably enjoy it a lot more now that I understand what the hell was going on. But based on my first viewing, I hope that Hereditary doesn’t spawn any offsprings…

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

by Samantha Harford

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a throwback to our much-loved 90s teen movies. The costumes, colours and tropes all reignite those chilled, heart-warming vibes we all feel when switching on teen romances like Sixteen Candles or Never Been Kissed. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before certainly earns brownie points in its use of a Korean-American protagonist Lara Covey – played by actress Lana Condor – in what would typically be expected as an all-white cast compared to the usual standard that teen romances have set.

But, does it pass the Bechdel test? For a movie to pass, Alison Bechdel outlines that it must contain 1) at least two named women, 2) who talk to each other, and 3) about something other than a man. Upon first reflection, looking at this movie about a girl who falls in love with her pretend boyfriend, no way could it possibly even come close to passing. Yet To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before actually runs so much deeper than this – I watched the movie for the third time (research purposes only, of course) and something that struck me most was the solidity of female friendships that remained a constant throughout the film. Lara Jean, her older sister Margo, and youngest Kitty are almost inseparable until Margot moves to a university in Scotland – but even the miles apart and infrequent Skype conversations still keep their sisterhood bond strong, and intact. The lingering presence of their dead mother rings throughout the backbone of the plot and it is pretty clear that despite all the romance and high-school drama, female relationships are the foundations of this film. Without them, it simply would not be To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Even the relationship between Lara Jean and her fake boyfriend Peter Kravinsky, played by Noah Centineo, is melded on their loss of a parent. Peter’s father left his family when he was young and both bond over the struggles which they have been left by missing a parent. Overall, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before certainly has its setbacks on the Bechdel test rating, but I’d conclude that its infrangible bond between sisterhood, family and friends is what gives this film a pass by Bechdel.

The Incredibles 2

by Ralin Kuek

One thing I love about The Incredibles 2 is that it introduces the reversal of traditional gender roles in a family, with this impacting each member of the family. This film also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. It has more than 2 named women in it, who talk to each other about something besides a man.

Whereas the previous film focused on Mr Incredible’s secret spy work, in the sequel Elastigirl takes the centre stage. Although Mr Incredible seems to be bothered by the fact that Winston asks for his wife instead of him, he is still really supportive of his wife saving the world. Unlike other films, The Incredibles 2 illustrates the reversal of gender roles in detail. For example, Mr Incredible helps Dash with his homework, feeds and cares for Jack-Jack and is a friend for his heartbroken daughter.

Apart from the Incredible family, Evelyn Deavor is introduced as a tech-savvy business partner and sister of Winston Deavor. Later in the film, it is revealed that she is also the mastermind behind the villain Screenslaver. Both main female characters are illustrated as the smart ones in their family.

Nonetheless, the film faced critical backlash on social media platforms regardless of its box-office results. @JonWest56 wrote on Twitter: ‘Tried to relive my childhood by seeing Incredibles 2 yesterday. The movie would have been fine if there wasn’t an agenda. Very modern feminist movie. Leave politics out of cartoons and children’s movies. Bad enough it’s all you hear now, but kids movies?!? COME ON’. I am utterly shocked to see how gender dynamics are seen as “politics”. This validated the lack of female representation in the media. Hence, I would love to see more television series and films like The Incredibles 2 which reflect realistic gender dynamics.

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