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Testing the Bechdel Test

One of the clever recent innovations at the subscription streaming service Fandor is the ability to filter films using the Bechdel Test. Created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel Test applies three criteria to judge the quality of female representation in a motion picture: 1) it has to have at least two [named] women in it; 2) who talk to each other; 3) about something besides a man.

In a new video essay, “Beyond Bechdel: Testing Feminism in Film,” Lee interrogates the Bechdel Test using films from the Fandor library, asking whether the test is a meaningful criteria when considering a movie’s quality of female representation. After noting that some of his favorite films pass the test — like, for example, fellow favorite The Mirror, by Andrei Tarkovsky (a filmmaker never hailed for progressive female representation) — Lee finds out how long it takes films to pass it and, then, with what type of scene. Then, he considers films by Claire Denis, Rick Linklater and Maya Deren, challenging Bechdel-followers to broaden the scope of their film judging.

Pictured above, Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours, a film with a deep, insightful and truly empathetic female co-lead, played by Mary Margaret O’Hara, that nonetheless fails the Bechdel Test.

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