The Bechdel test is a pretty simple test. Do two female characters in a film talk to each other about something other than a man?
In the 21st century you’d think that all films would be able to pass the test but, surprisingly, in 2014 only 55% of released films passed.
With feminism and women’s issues two incredibly important topics that continues to hit the headlines, the test now seems more important than ever – and so Corrina Antrobus decided to do something about it.
Early in 2015, Corrina launched the Bechdel Test Fest. At its heart is the simple goal of celebrating female-driven films that pass the Bechdel Test.
‘I was inspired by the chain of Swedish independent cinemas that introduced the Bechdel test as a film classification measure by introducing A Rate – which advertised if a film passes the test or not,’ Corrina told.
‘I found it fascinating the way films were given less marketing opportunities if they had female leads. It didn’t seem right.’
We totally agree, and with the startling 2014 statistic, Corrina admitted that she believes it’s ‘still crucial to measure the representation of women in films because it’s not getting any better.
‘We are still struggling to have prominence on screens which is why I’m using my festival to hail all the positive female roles and the wonderful female lead films.’
Journalist Simran Hans agrees: ‘In terms of representation, we’re actually going backwards, despite the current media narrative telling us that “feminism” is having this hot moment.
‘The test is a really good entry point into a wider conversation about the representation of women in film.’
Of course, nothing is ever perfect and the Bechdel test itself has received fair criticism.
Some of our favourite films of all time with strong female characters would surprisingly not pass the test – Saving Mr. Banks, Gravity, Breakfast At Tiffany’s – but both Corrina and Simran acknowledge that ‘it’s by no means a measure of feminist film’.
‘It has many flaws,’ says Corrina, ‘but as Alison Bechdel herself says, it’s fun to pick apart despite the sad truth it unveils.’
Simran adds that critics should ‘simply see it for what it is – a tool to help us look at representation in a very literal sense, and, let’s face it, a pretty low bar in and of itself’.
The festival’s latest offering is the London premiere screening of Beyond The Lights, an Oscar-nominated British drama starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Minnie Driver.
A classic romance laced through with commentary exploring the sexualisation of women in the music industry, the film never received theatrical distribution in the UK – leading many to speculate it was because the film’s leads are black.
‘At a very basic level, people didn’t think this film would have an audience in the UK. If there’s no guarantee that the film would sell tickets, what would be the point in taking a risk and investing in marketing it? It’s a business decision,’ explains Simran, who has previously written on distribution and black cinema.
‘What the Bechdel Test Fest’s sold-out screening proves is that there is an audience for this film, which is a thrilling revelation,’ she says, before adding: ‘In many ways, the film industry still feels like a boys’ club, and so championing other women and their work really helps to redress that imbalance.’
Corrina for her part still can’t believe that the small festival she launched early in 2015 has now sold out the Picturehouse Ritzy cinema in London: ‘I thought I would be running just a small film club but we are now putting on brilliant films at wonderful cinemas all around London and selling out shows which is just thrilling to see and proves that great female lead films do sell and do exist.’