Women, Men, and Movies

In my twenties I lived with a screenwriter.

We were broke, but every week we went to the local second run theater and saw a movie. We also borrowed a movie on VHS tape at our library once a week. (Yes, VHS, it was that long ago.) We talked about what we watched, and I learned a ton about character, plot, and writing.

And had fun.

Sadly, I’ve yet to find anyone who likes to take apart a movie the same way. (When I tried it with the next guy I dated he said, “Can’t you just enjoy the movie?” But I was enjoying it.)

The screenwriter and I broke up, I later went to law school, life got more hectic, and I never quite watched as many movies again.

When I do watch movies, I’m often pulled out of the story by the way women characters are shown. I’ll find myself thinking things like, “Really? This woman has not a single female colleague?” or “Seriously? Not one woman friend she’d talk to about her mother’s death?” The lack of realism undermines the film for me.

Which in a way is progress.

Just out of college I never thought much about gender in movies.

Now, to combine work and fun, I plan to write about films here, particularly looking at how the way filmmakers depict women affects characterization and plot, as well as how much I enjoy each movie.

There are three tests I’ll consider:

  • The Bechdel Test
  • The Sexy Lamp Test
  • The Mako Mori Test

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test looks at how women are shown in the film, asking whether:

(1) two (named) female characters;

(2) talk to one another;

(3) about something other than a man.

If this test strikes you as not truly addressing characterization, you’re right. A movie can pass if Karen asks Jacinda if she’d like some tea and Jacinda says yes.

Which makes it more disturbing that so many movies don’t pass.

(If you’re a Star Trek fan you can check the Mary Sue to see how well all the Star Trek iterations do.)

The Sexy Lamp Test

This test, proposed by comic book creator Kelly Sue DeConnick, asks whether you could replace your female character with a sexy lamp and not affect the plot.

(Note: her language is a bit colorful, so don’t click if you prefer PG language.)


The Mako Mori Test

If a movie features only one woman–think of Pacific Rim, whose character gives the test its name, or Gravity–by definition it can’t pass the Bechdel Test. It might still, however, feature a strong story and a three-dimensional woman character.

To look at these types of movies, a Tumblr user, chaila, proposed the Mako Mori Test, described as follows in The Daily Dot:

The film features

a) a female character;

b) with a narrative arc of her own;

c) “that is not about supporting a man’s story.” (quoting chaila)

To start off my Women, Men, and Movies reviews, next Wednesday I’ll review the 2015 film The Invitation. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on these tests in the comments.