Marco Werman: Next time you go see a movie, ask yourself these three questions. Does the film feature two named female characters? You know, not just bank teller one and two. Do they talk to each other, and do they discuss something other than a man? That's a Bechdel Test, named after its inventory, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, and this test is now being used by some movie theaters in Sweden to rate their films on a gender parody scale. Ellen Tejle manages the Cinema Rio in Stockholm, Sweden.
Ellen Tejle: When we find out about this and start to look on the movies that we shown in our cinemas, we were shocked. And we thought, "hmm, if we are shocked, maybe someone else is too. Maybe we should do something about that."
Werman: Well, we've actually got Alison Bechdel on the line with us. Alison, explain how the Bechdel test came up, because I know you were not working for the Motion Picture Association of America. This was in a strip. Explain the contest.
Alison Bechdel: You know, I'm still confused about how it became the Bechdel test. I'm actually sitting here reading the Guardian piece, and looking at this website 'The Bechdel Test,' trying to remember how this all happened. I wrote a comic strip 30 years ago, in which I have these two characters talking about how hard it is to see a movie with like a, you know, a female protagonist, and these are the criteria that they apply. And I totally stole this thing from a friend of mine. I have to... I keep trying to give her credit. It's not really my idea, my friend Liz Wallace in 1985 made a joke one day. She said, "These are the rules I apply when I go to the movies. The movie has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other about something besides a man." I'm like, "great, that's really funny, I'm going to make a comic strip out of it," because I didn't have any other ideas that week.
Werman: So it's not really the Bechdel test, it's the Liz Wallace Test. Ellen Tejle, I'm wondering just how difficult it is to apply a Bechdel rating to films there at your theaters.
Tejle: The Bechdel test is really simple. Two women talking to each other about something besides men. And all the movies that we put on the cinemas, we put a sticker on them with this little label saying, "Approved by Bechdel test." That's the only thing it's saying, it's not about quality or if it's a feminist movie or not. It's just passing these questions, that's it. And you also will have it on the website, and you will have it on the screen just before the movie starts in cinemas. I hope Alison liked the idea we had, this may have come from a conversation from one year ago, if you remember.
Bechdel: Yeah, I'm pretty excited about it. I think it's really cool. I have to say, the principle of having female protagonists being made into movies, that's all about what I have been working at my whole life. To create women who are subjects.
Werman: Alison, do you kind of still run this test in the back of your mind, yourself, when you go to the movies or you think about going to a film?
Bechdel: Honestly, I don't. I mean, you know, I would not see very many movies if I did.
Werman: Do you think there's been progress since you first sketched that out?
Bechdel: Oh, absolutely. There's been tremendous progress. In recent years, I think a real revolution in allowing women to just be regular humans in the movies and on television.
Werman: What's the best example of that that you've seen recently?
Bechdel: You know, the first thing that popped into my head is the TV show, 'Girls'. That's not even thinking of a movie right now, sorry. Where these women characters get to be their whole, flawed selves in a way that women typically haven't. Women are, you know... for many years, have been mostly props, in movies and television.
Werman: Well, I wanted to throw one example out there. This controversial French film that was critically acclaimed at con this past year, "Blue is the Warmest Colour." It's a story about two lesbians falling in love, men are incidental, but the film was made by a man. How do you deal with that film on the Bechdel scale?
Bechdel: I don't think the person making the movie factors in, it's a simple metric. As long as it fulfills those three requirements, it doesn't matter who made it.
Tejle: Yeah, we don't show that movie in our cinema, and I haven't seen it yet either, but I heard it's a great movie and I long to see it pass the Bechdel test as well, so it will have this 'A' label on it, and we will be proud of it.
Werman: A for Alison. That was Ellen Tejle, manager of the Cinema Rio in Stockholm, which is using the Bechdel test to rate its movies. And cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who drew the cartoon that sparked the test. We've been buzzing all day about this movie rating system here in the news room, and we want to hear from you, too. What's your film submission that meets the Bechdel criteria? Add your thoughts at pri.org.