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Does Your Favorite Movie Pass Joyce’s Bechdel Test?

By October 4, 2010No Comments

By Joyce
New Organizing Project blogger

Quick, name 10 movies where:

1) There are at least two women in it.
2) These two women talk to each other.
3) These two women talk to each other about something other than a man.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Apparently not. I had a hard time coming up with a list of my own — fast resorting to a Google search. The steps had sounded so easy, but I couldn’t name enough movies without the aid of the internet? What?

These three requirements make up the Bechdel Test, a test that was made to highlight the systemic absence and/or relegation of women in film. If a movie passes the test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the movie is good or feminist-friendly by any means; all it states is: hey look, there are two women in this movie, talking to each other and they aren’t talking about a man. This YouTube video sums up the Bechdel test pretty well.

So when I was thinking about my blog post for this week, I thought instead of giving you a list of movies that do pass this test, I’d give you readers a list of movies that not only pass this test but with a key tweak in the first rule [the other rules essentially remain the same]:

1) There are at least two Asian American women in it.

And what did I come up with? Here are five in no particular order:

1) Saving Face (Trailer)

2) Double Happiness

3) Tie a Yellow Ribbon (Trailer)

4) The Joy Luck Club

5) Red Doors (Trailer)

Again, just because these films pass my version of the Bechdel test, does not necessarily make them ‘good’ films. And admittedly, I had to do another fair amount of Googling; these movies didn’t pop into my mind instantly by any means. What I immediately thought of was a handful of films with Asian American characters in them, i.e., the Harold and Kumar movies, Better Luck Tomorrow, The Motel, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. But did any of them pass Joyce’s Bechdel test? No.

As a side note, I noticed while compiling this list that while the five films I named do fit the Joyce Bechdel criteria, the two Asian American women in the film were usually related to each other.  The family angle is fine and all, but Asian American women have other Asian American female friends, too! Couldn’t that also be reflected in these movies? Just some food for thought.


Movie still from "Red Doors"

My point is, it’s hard enough as it is for most films to pass the original Bechdel test, let alone my edited version of it. This void is a serious reflection of the systemic sexism AND racism that exists in the film industry. The lack of diversity of any kind in mainstream films would make it seem that they [meaning Hollywood writers, producers, directors, etc.] are only trying to cater to a white, male audience. And who knows, however, we all know that it’s not just white men who see movies. And as I mentioned in my first blog post about why popular culture matters to all of us, films have real influence in shaping a person’s identity and their perception of others. So what do you think someone is going to think when what they see in most mainstream films are a bunch of white, [usually] heterosexual men with people of color and other marginalized groups in the background or virtually invisible?

So the next time you watch a movie, see if it passes the Bechdel test or my own edited version of it. And what movies have you seen recently, lovely readers, that passes either test?


*Thanks for the blog post inspiration, Ryan!*