Feminism Tests For Films – A Right Step Towards Gender Equality?

by Kareena Dodeja
Feminism Tests For Films – A Right Step Towards Gender Equality?

February 15, 2021

Several films fail to give a significant character development along with the plot, especially when it comes to female characters. Often, women are given stereotypical roles or tropes that don't end in a definite result. Female characters are used to provide the limelight to the male characters by giving plot problems.

To change this, film producer Lindsey Villarreal wants to give the women characters an in-depth development path to convey their needs and desires to the audience- with a test.

Lindsey Villarreal is a producer and assistant director who has worked on shows such as Mad Men, “The Strain” and “Bates Motel.” She has devised a test based on movies that fail to introduce women, where the female is stereotyped as sexualized, hardened, expressionless or soulless, or a matriarch (tired, older, or overworked) character.

Villarreal Feminism Test - Tropes That Stereotype Female Characters

Stereotyped movies “salvage” themselves if the female character is –

Someone who is a mother,
Someone who is reckless and makes terrible decisions, 
Someone who is sexual or chooses her own sexual identity, or
Someone with a career where she is in a position of power or authority. 

Villarreal’s test aims to look at primary female characters in a stereotypical fashion and see if they could eventually become less conventional. This test is quite complicated as the film immediately fails if the female lead ends up as a typical stereotype.

The country’s challenging journey on the road to gender equality

Why Should We Use Feminist Tests (and Embrace Them Too)?

Feminist Tests are rudimentary to save ourselves from watching a movie that puts down women. The ‘Bechdel Test‘ is seen as an efficient way to find a defect in women’s representation in the industry. It considers how frequently women talk to each other on-screen and what they talk about ‘other than a man’.

It has been about 30 years since Alison Bechdel came up with the Bechdel-Wallace Test to highlight the evident gender disparities on screen. Around 13 other women from the television and film industry devised their tests based on female characters. They looked at women and diversity factors, women who were behind-the-scenes and women of colour.

Diversity In Feminism Tests For Cinema

The producer and writer, Ligiah Villalobos, created a Latina-based Bechdel test. To pass the test, the lead should be a Latina and should portray college-educated professional speaking unaccented English, who is unsexualised.

Zootopia, the animated movie came close to fulfilling the test’s requirements, but the female lead was sexualised (oops!). Most films cannot pass this test as authentic representation is deficient.

About the rules that have now become the yardstick to determine gender representation in films.

Bollywood and Bechdel Test

The tests are employed to understand the complexities of the characters and gender disparities. They do a great job in understanding gender equality on and off-screen. With few good films that portray women well, there comes a barrage of misogynist movies but are often deemed super-hits.

When would we think of Bollywood films passing this feminism test?

One would scoff. There are barely any Bollywood films that could pass this test. Yes, not even our childhood favourite Hollywood films such as Lord of the Rings or Star Wars can pass this test. Even some of our Bollywood favourites such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, P.K., and Barfi did not make the cut. Most actresses play the roles of ‘damsel in distress‘ or the stereotypical ‘girl-next-door. The most recent case of misrepresentation or problematic representation can be seen in Gal Gadot’s casting as Cleopatra in an upcoming film.

The Bechdel Test is a primary measure of gender equality in cinema. The passing of the test is a good indication that women are given equal representation.

It doesn’t matter how these films perform at the box office or how they are reviewed, the fact is that Indian cinema is gradually coming of age where women are coming out of stereotype roles such as that of a mother, daughter, sister, wife or a hooker

Need for a "Women-centric" Feminist Film Structure

We need a “women-centric” feminist film that does not have any male saviours. Women should be given enough scenes, dialogues, and screen time as an actress. There are other tests such as the ‘Mako Mori Test,’ ‘DuVernay Test,’ and ‘Furiosa Test‘ that aims to find the proper representation of women in the film industry.

It is impossible to design a test of whether a film will make the women in the audience respected or empowered, but it is a conversation worth having. Some tests are implemented behind-the-scenes such as the Feldman Test by Rachel Feldman. The test is scored on points such as the number of female directors, producers, and other department heads working on the set.

Overall, these tests are proposed to bring gender disparity to light. Equality is becoming important in the television and film industry. Bechdel once said, “women should be represented as “subjects and not objects”. The Bechdel or other tests are not just litmus tests, but they give a detailed analysis of what needs to be changed in the industry.

Not only cinema, but almost every aspect of social human life is marred with gender-based discrimination, including the revered Olympic games. Well, at least these tests are a start in the right direction.


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