In light of the new hit film Pacific Rim, bloggers and writers everywhere have been reexamining the role of the “strong female character,” and what it means to write a movie with a good one that isn’t some Mary Sue. Many viewers of the film noticed that Pacific Rim fails to pass the famed Bechdel test, but commends it on its use of a lead female character of color, who is thoughtful and integral in to the story, who is not sexualized, and who has her own character arc.
a) at least one female character
b) who gets her own narrative arc
c) that is not about supporting a man’s story
Read more at Chaila’s Tumblr
The Bechdel Test is more of a litmus test and is by no means a fail safe for finding movies that critical viewers would consider feminist. Twilight passes the Bechdel test, for instance, and is considered one of the least empowering movies for women. But the test has its uses, and has even inspired the lesser known Finkbeiner test, used by journliasts to help avoid gender bias when writing about women in science. There is no defining movie-rule for finding a feminist movie.
Chaila also notes that Pacific Rim passes a the Bechdel test for people of color. That is, where two non-white characters who talk to each other about something other than another white character. Unfortunately, this is even rarer than films that pass the Bechdel test, but it still has its exceptions. The entire Rush Hour series would pass the race version of the Bechdel test, but that series is still rife with racist stereotypes and is basically a modern day minstrel show.
Really, all these tests are just one giant Kobayashi Maru test for film and other media. We’re not supposed to get hung up on whether a movie passes because it’s not that type of test. It’s a test of character. Context is important here. Movies might not pass every test, or they might pass by cheating, or by some fluke. On the other hand, they might pass because they’re well written, thoughtful, and politically aware. Twilight doesn’t get a thumbs up from feminists because it passes the Bechdel test. It’s not whether you pass, it’s how you do it. The Bechdel test, and now the Mako Mori test are not about a checklist of “safe” movies, but rather a strategy for viewers to ask ourselves: Why do we focus so little on female relationships? Why do we so seldom see female arcs? Why do we so seldom see interactions between characters of color? And how does film treat them when we do?