Jess Commons | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Creator Of The Bechdel Test Film Festival Talks Oscar Nominations And Why We Need Women Creating Film

The Debrief: In case you’re not familiar, the Bechdel Test Rule is this; that a film shall contain two women who will have a conversation about something other than a man

Move over Sundance, this year is all about the Bechdel Test Fest – a year-long film festival staged throughout 2015 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Alison Bechdel comic that first established The Rule.

Most films fall short of the Bechdel Test Rule, despite how overwhelmingly simple it might seem.

Alison Bechdel

‘It’s staggering how many films don’t pass,’ says Corrina Antrobus, creator of the Bechdel Test Fest. ‘I think it’s a lot to do with the lack of women making films. It’s something like 17% of the directors in Hollywood are women (when looking at the 250 highest-grossing films of 2014) and, obviously, when you have a female directors there’s way more chance that it’ll pass the test.’

Corrina first came up with the idea for the festival after watching a TED Talk by Colin Stokes, who started taking a look at the representation of gender in film when his daughter was born and came back with depressing findings. 'The TED Talk starts off quite funny, but he ends up wondering what kind of message Hollywood is giving his children,' says Corrina. 'We need to make sure women are presented in an equal light in film otherwise it creates detrimental problems in society regarding the way men treat women.’

With films like The Hunger Games and its strong female lead character topping the box office last year though, surely Hollywood’s noted the problem and is on the way to rectifying it? ‘I mean the fact that films that passed the test managed to make the most money last year is good. Money talks and if the film industry take that on board then there may well be a bigger shift in having strong female characters. I hope it’s not going to be tokenistic, though.’

Because while 2013 was a good year for money grossed by films with strong female leads, this year's Oscar nominations tell another story when it comes to Hollywood's repesentation of women. ‘I think it’s fascinating in a really sad way.’ Corrina sighs. ‘Like, I loved Whiplash, but in the review I wrote (Corrina is also a film critic), I did question it because all the females in the film are problematic – you’ve got the girl who’s a hindrance, the mother who disappeared when he was a baby… I think with the nominations I just realised how focussed all the big films are on men and their masculinity. It's sad. And it made me think that I’m sure there must be more films out there that are just as good.’

One of Corrina’s favourite films that passes the test is Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate's Obvious Child, which she showed at the festival’s inaugural event a few weeks back (the next official one is Little Women, Big Stories in March which is a week-long event comprised of screenings of films with ‘positive, dynamic, complicated young women as leads’). ‘I just think (Obvious Child) is such a breakthrough.' Corrina says. 'It’s normal to have abortions and it’s okay to talk and laugh about them, because it’s just life. It happens to a lot of us.’ Also a fave? Frances Ha. ‘It’s got an interesting female falling in and out of love with her friendship group rather than her boyfriend, which is something that I think a lot of young women go through as they transcend from one area of their life to another.’

So what does Corrina hope to achieve with the Bechdel Test Fest? ‘Just to create conversation and to ask the question where are the women? Let’s talk about it!’ Hear hear.

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Tags: Film