WELL, THAT HAPPENED: The Golden Age of Women

By on May 19, 2015

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The Bechdel Test was first introduced in cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. In it, a female character says that she only sees films when they follow three simple requirements:

1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,

2. who talk to each other,

3. about something other than a man.

Even in our current pro-feminist age, you’d be surprised by how few films are able to pass that test. Even director Joss Whedon, who is famous for highlighting badass women in his shows and films, botched it with his current film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The two main female characters, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), never exchange words even though they fight alongside one another. Most romances aimed at women also fail this test, including the recent film The Age of Adaline, where there is a large amount of female characters who can’t seem to have a conversation on a subject that doesn’t involve being with a man.

However, two films came out this weekend that managed to pass the Bechdel Test for very different reasons.

Pitch Perfect 2, a sequel to the 2012 acapella competition comedy, stars a large cast of 20-something actresses with big voices and occasionally spot-on comedic timing. Even though there is a hefty amount of sexist and misplaced racist jokes, the film highlights female ambition and busts the “teen movie” preconception that a girl must be in want of a boyfriend to ultimately achieve her goals.

A race through the desert. PHOTO: WARNER BROS. PICTURES.

A race through the desert. PHOTO: WARNER BROS. PICTURES.

On the complete flipside is Mad Max: Fury Road. Watching the trailers of the film, I didn’t have much initial interest in seeing a two-hour violent and bloody race through the desert. I was aware Charlize Theron was in the film, but I didn’t realize to what degree. With so many positive reviews piling in I ended up coughing up the cash and seeing it on the big screen.

Without spoiling too much, Imperator Furiosa (Theron) rescues five women from a masochistic, deformed overlord in hopes of delivering them from the desert wastelands to a utopia known as “the green place.” Traditionally, in an action film like this, the title character Max (Tom Hardy) would be the hero, rescuing the females and (probably) falling in love with at least one of them by the time the credits roll.

But instead, Furiosa is the film’s focus character. Not only does she embody the characteristics of a typical badass, she is a headstrong, realistic protagonist who probably could have carried out her mission without Max’s help.

Personally, I’ve always found joy in female confidence. I still love Milla Jovovich’s Resident Evil movies, even though they’re mostly atrocious. I consider Catwoman a way more complex villain to Batman than the Joker will ever be. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias remain two of my favorite television shows because they showcase female characters in atypical gender roles.

Female superhero fans have Wonder Woman (2017) and Captain Marvel (2018) to look forward to, and I hope that both films are able to live up to the amazing women they will center on. The success of Mad Max will hopefully show Hollywood that strong female characters can indeed bring in box office numbers. Black Widow and Scarlet Witch have both been mostly excluded from Marvel merchandising. From toy sales alone, a child would never know there are women on the Avengers team. But if money is the only reason why they’ve made 11 films about the Avengers characters, and not one of them centered around a female, then perhaps they’ll never learn.

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