Of 20 sampled films, 11 fulfill all three requirements of Alison Bechdel’s litmus test for female representation in storytelling, according to a new Bustle survey. The sample pool is admittedly subjective, with a mix of ten of the year’s highest grossing films, and ten of what the author deemed “the most buzzed about films.”
The top-grossing films of 2016 were:
“Captain America: Civil War”
“The Jungle Book”
“The Secret Life of Pets”
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them”
Bustle’s most buzzed about films were:
“La La Land”
“Manchester By the Sea”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“The Legend of Tarzan”
To pass the so-called Bechdel test, a movie or story must have: At least two named female characters, who have a conversation, about something other than a man. The deceptively simple test, first introduced in Bechdel’s classic comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” remains one of the best indicators of a film’s positive or negative representation of women.
Acknowledging the limits of the test in 2016, and placing the year in the context of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, 11 of Bustle’s list of 20 films passed the test. Adding further analysis of the female characters’ relationships with men (or lack thereof) and self-reliance, 13 of the films pass muster.
The films that fared the worst were “The Legend of Tarzan,” which not only failed the original test, but on further inspection, the movie did little to alter the tired damsel-in-distress story, leaving Jane in bondage for most of the film and using her as a simple plot device for Tarzan. Though “Suicide Squad” technically passed, Bustle did not like its “scantily clad anti-heroines” who are “emotionally dependent on their love interests.”
Applying the rules of the test to race and sexual orientation, only 7 of the films featured named women of color with speaking roles, and none featured queer women.