After watching the recent class films, I was left wanting more. Not more movies or jokes, but more characterization of women. In the four films that premiered April 8th, two of them prominently featured female characters. These characters fell flat due to either their little screen time or the fact that the audience only saw their character develop in relation to a male counterpart. It was sad to see all of these films fail the Bechdel Test.
The Bechdel Test was named after Alison Bechdel and designed as a cursory marker to see how women are portrayed in any type of fiction. This test simply asks if there are at least two female characters who, at any point in the work, talk to each other about anything other than a man. This is, clearly, very rudimentary. However, due in part to the fact that the film industry is a male-dominated field, many films fail this test. Over 50% of Hollywood movies fail this test. Though this is a staggering percentage, blame should not be lifted off of Wheaton filmmakers.
In many classes at Wheaton, we are told to use gender-inclusive language and there is a lot of attention put to women’s issues. Wheaton College has one of the most progressive definitions of consent, in the way that it includes body language, and yet, the student filmmakers have failed to follow the example set forth to them by the Wheaton institution.
Every class film* that I was able to get my hands on failed the Bechdel Test. Furthermore, every film featured a predominantly male cast and crew. These are films that are written by men and look more into men’s problems. Many of the films centered around a guy wanting to go out with a girl and then ended with them living happily ever after. Though one film this year mocked this convention (à la Frozen) its driving force was that of a guy falling in love with a girl. This kind of story can be very emotional, funny, and heartwarming, but the class films do not uphold both ends of the bargain. The male character is the ‘actor’ and is the one that drives the narrative forward, with the women presented as a goal or reward.
Wheaton College class films do diverge from the romantic comedy genre but they do not tread in the territory of gender diversity and equality. One film consisted of a montage of trailers. This particular one can be mostly forgiven for failing the Bechdel Test but it should be noted that there were very few female characters in it. Furthermore, it would seem as though the 2016 Sophomore Film would pass the Bechdel Test because it featured women talking to each other about a story and not a man. However, this was fully unscripted and thus was not a work of fiction. Only when it transitioned into the fictional portion did it fall under the constraints of the Bechdel Test where it ultimately failed.
What these examples show is that women are not being taken as seriously as they should be. Their participation and views are not fully considered when a class film is undertaken. The Bechdel Test was never meant to be a set of rules to strive for or something that is difficult to achieve and pass. Its standards are remarkably low and superficial. Nonetheless, Wheaton continues to disappoint those standards year after year. Filmmakers at Wheaton College must take more deliberate actions so as to ensure that women are being equally represented. It is high time that students become more intentional in the way that they engage with stories. Women must be shown equal representation in the films that are chosen to represent each of our respective classes.
* I watched all four films from 2016, the Freshman film from 2015, and several other dating back to the early 2000’s.