The Bechdel Test makes a great point, only it’s not the point that Sweden seems to think it’s making.
The test asks a three-pronged question about each movie we watch: Does it have at least two women in it, and do those women talk to each other, and do they talk about something besides a man?
Now once you start applying this test to the movies you watch, you may see a disturbing pattern: An overwhelming, out-of-whack majority of movies would have to answer at least one of those three questions with a “no.”
And yes yes YES, we should try to correct this imbalance. YES I’d love to see more ladies in the movies. However, it’s important to remember that The Bechdel Test is most useful when applied to cinema as a whole. It illuminates a widespread problem, not necessarily a problem that individual films should be judged on, utterly out-of-context. A film can “fail” the Bechdel Test and not be sexist, just as a film that “passes” the test can still be horrendously sexist. Therefore, it’s kind of unfair, not to mention pointless, to grade one film on an A to F scale based on how it fares on the test– which is exactly what a number of Swedish movie theaters have begun doing.
Look, some movies could probably stand to change a few male characters into female characters, in the interest of gender equality. But for other movies, like say Reservoir Dogs, adding female characters wouldn’t feel right for the story. Reservoir Dogs should be allowed to be a diamond-heisting sausage fest without getting grief for it.
Similarly, Kill Bill Vol. 1 should be allowed to get a low grade on a reverse Bechdel Test. It’s The Bride’s story, so if she’s the topic of conversation whenever two male characters are talking to each other, it makes sense. (Volume 2 only passes the reverse Bechdel Test because of a brief non-Bride-related dialogue between Budd and his boss, and while it’s a fine scene, it’s quite superfluous.)
That’s because most movies are not Robert Altman-esque epics with sprawling casts and multiple story threads– they focus on one journey of one hero. Therefore, all the scenes of your average movie, including any dialogues between supporting characters, will tend to focus on that hero and his/her journey. If the hero is male– which, in an ideal world, would describe approximately 50% of all movies– then not only will that movie likely fail the Bechdel Test, it will have a good reason to.
If Swedish cinemas want to assign grades based on the Bechdel Test, they’d be much better off grading film studios for not producing nearly enough movies with female heroes, and maybe grade audiences for not paying to watch more female-friendly movies; after all, studios have a knack for following the money.
In the meantime, I hereby bestow upon these Swedish cinemas a grade of C : Their hearts are in the right place, but their fingers are pointing in the wrong directions.