Could you see 100 feminist films before you die?

What is a feminist film and could you see 100 different films that qualify as feminist, and also pass the Bechdel test?

woman with film clapper

A 100 films to see before you die. It’s a compelling challenge for any filmgoer. But what about films that could qualify as feminist films. Are there even that many that have been made? And, if so, why have there only been that many films that qualify as feminist ever made?

When it comes to cinema, there are numerous different books that catalogue the 100 most important films you need to watch in a lifetime. It might be around the theme of classics or certain genres, era, directors and so on, but there are plenty of them. What about 100 feminist or decent films by, for or about women? And what even is a feminist film?

Feminist film bible?

A new book out earlier this year has attempted to do just that. The Feminist Film Guide showcases 100 different films that qualify as feminist, and also pass the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test, if you’re not familiar with it, assesses whether a film has at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man. Additionally, it can also be enhanced by adding that the two female characters be named in the film.

It’s a pretty low bar when it comes to qualifying films, but such has been the paucity of good female roles in film. These are the kind of roles where the women are the main character or have a substantial part of the plot that moves the story along. It’s where the women characters have their own agency, which is to say they’re not simply responding to the male characters’ actions or story and peripheral to the film’s central story.

The Feminist Film Guide is a curated selection list of films, across eras and genres, highlighting the overlooked female trail-blazers, including the silent era and classic Hollywood to the gun-toting rebels of the ’80s and ’90s and the funny women absolutely dominating comedy in the new millennium. Author Mallory Andrews, a film critic and editor with over 10 years experience, was also one of the founding members of cléo, a Canadian journal of film and feminism.

It’s an important record of films that can be classed as having feminist credentials in the way women act or are portrayed.

So, while dialogue is important, there’s a lot more to it than that.

She who speaks

If a character has a central part of the story on screen, then you’d expect her to have some decent airtime. One of the ways of measuring women’s role in film, as well as TV, is to look at their speaking roles. And it’s far less than half, according to a 2019 report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, a think tank studying diversity in the arts. It found only one-third of speaking roles in the100 top-grossing films of 2018 went to women. Half the population but only a third of the on-screen characters and it’s barely nudged in 11 years, with the figure almost the same in 2007.

It’s not the only measure. There are other studies showing how half the Oscars nominated films in 2018 didn’t pass the Bechdel Test and there’s poor representation of colour women and other marginalised groups on screen. Yet TV seems to be doing better, with series coming out regularly that have a more diverse representation of women and bass the Bechdel Test.

Words fail her

Getting dialogue is important, but it’s not the only measure of women’s participation in film and TV. Think about how many crime series revolve around a dead women, usually a young, beautiful body shown laying cold on a slab. The creepy eroticism of this isn’t a mistake. What about all the women who are attacked in films and the dominance of white women on screen. It shows there needs to be a more complex measure for assessing the imbalance on screen and behind the lens in film and TV production. Data site FiveThirtyEight has attempted to develop a new Bechdel Test that looks in front and behind and behind the camera. It gather a number of films and applied several different gender and racial measures and, not surprisingly, found the vast majority failed.

Feisty femmes on screens

To keep up the discussion, a lively podcast called The Bechdel Cast, which is hosted by hosted by Caitlin Durante and Jamie Loftus, discusses the portrayal of women in movies, canvassing both new and older films.

To end on a more positive note, it’s worth point out that females accounted for half of the major characters in streaming programs and about the same in broadcast network programs, according to Boxed In, the Center for the Study of Women in TV & Film’s 21-22 report. However, there is a dose of ageism that kicks in, with the number of characters over 40 diminishing and women still not making up half of the creatives and behind-the-scenes talent.

To help women filmmakers from being forgotten, Invisible Women is a resource devoted to highlighting woman as well as filmmakers with marginalised identities who have been overlooked, un-credited or left out of the history of cinema.

Or better yet, get working on your own idea and pitch to a streaming platform like Netflix.

Main image: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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