Open discussion: A POC version of the Bechdel Test?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bechdel Test, let me give you a short overview.

The test was popularized in Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For (“The Rule,” 1985), when one of the characters says that she will only go to movies that meet three simple criteria. The movie must have:

  1. At least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man

You’ll be amazed at how shockingly few movies meet these tiny requirements.  Go here for a video plus links on just how rarely movies pass the test. The only movies I recall seeing recently that pass the test are Hoodwinked and Alien.

Now that the stark reality of Hollywood sexism has got you good and depressed, let’s cheer up by turning our eye to Hollywood racism.

If there is a POC version of the Bechdel Test, what would be the requirements, and what would we call it?

My initial thoughts are that to pass the [Test], a movie must have:

  1. At least one named character of color
  2. Whose primary trait is not their race
  3. Who does something important besides help a White person

What do you think? What would be your test? Which movies would pass? Which ones would not?

BTW, feel free to make your own test for sexuality, disability, and other marginalities as well.


26 thoughts on “Open discussion: A POC version of the Bechdel Test?

  1. I was about to ask “only one” too.

    Is there any reason that you’re not just straight-up converting the test to “At least two characters of colour in it, who talk to each other about something besides a white person?”

    • Because race and gender don’t operate the same way. By that litmus test, “Lottery Ticket” gets included but Spike Lee movies don’t.

      • I know they don’t. I was interested about the reasoning behind your specific version. It certainly wasn’t intended as a criticism.

        Just, if we’re to try and think up different versions, I’d like to know why those three criteria are more important.

        I do like how it focuses less on the talking and more on action. That it’s not providing a pass just because of some minor conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

        What if a white person helps them in the something important they’re doing?

  2. I would have/add something about the type of role they play i.e. do they simply fit stereotypes? Or are they more complex?

    But this is a great test, by the way.

    • The thing about stereotypes, I think, is that they make a character’s race their primary trait. Even in biopics about historical figures, they’re defined less by race than they are by talent, values, relationships, etc.

  3. I’d like to demand “At least one person of color whose role is not related to a white person whatsoever/whose life is not defined by their relationship with a white person,” but I’d just be unrealistic. 😦

  4. This is such a great idea.*

    I like the focus on action instead of dialogue, too, but it might be easier to deflect (“nooo, his primary trait is not his race, see, he’s gay, too, -.- andand he’s also very poor and that really defines his life, and what’s a primary trait, anyway?” – watching old True Blood seasons atm)
    What’s worked so great about the Bechdel Test in my experience is that it’s so clear-cut and superficial and minimalistic that everyone can play. There’s never really anything to argue about a film passing or not, except for some really exceptional cases. (And usually, if there’s any possibility to sneak out of the -ism issue, people would use it, in my experience, and never think twice about it again.)
    That might be a difference in orientation, though, the Bechdel concept *maybe* better to hit home with outsiders/men/feminism-uninformed people (even my little white male geek community who could not be more bored by -ism discussions cannot get it out of their head and are applying it to movies), and this concept here definitely a lot better for insiders/POC/racism-informed people, as it gets more to the essence of stuff.

    *(I’m white, btw, so kick me out if I’m not behaving. Weirdness partly because of foreign language)

    • You’re right. There’s nothing subjective about the Bechdel Test. Either something passes or it doesn’t and there’s little room for arguing about whether it does or it doesn’t.

      Which, as you say, is its strength making it accessible to anyone. Although it’s also a weakness, providing passes to even the most marginal of cases and fails to movies with strong female characters because everyone else is male.

      It’s an interesting tool though and you’ve helped clarify to me why it’s something that people do find effective.

      I can’t even wrap my mind around something so simple for other minority groups. Especially since there’s so many degrees of complexity and so many ways they’re poorly portrayed. It just doesn’t seem right to cut it down to three points.

      I’ve been reading through some blog posts discussing the Bechdel test with the man/woman switched for white/POC and I can see how it just doesn’t work the same way.

  5. Going on my movie collection, movies that could pass this test imho would be:

    Final Fantasy Advent Children, The Sensei (an amazing movie by the way), The Golden Child, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Black Panther, Blade.

    Interesting how these movies pass because the primary protagonists are people of color.

    Other movies that you could make an argument for: The Matrix series (especially the Animatrix and the Enter The Matrix which is canon and you get background on Niobe’s storyline) and Serenity.

    • Holy fucking shit. I can’t decide which fail was epic:

      The assumption that you read POC-erased fantasy and still enjoy it and make no apologies for it and ergo whitewashing is completely justified.

      Or the other comment that stated, “No one is saying you can’t criticize this genre, but….you shouldn’t criticize this genre.”

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