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April 2, 2014 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Do movies that pass the Bechdel Test make more money than movies that don't? Walt Hickey, writing for Nate Silver's new fivethirtyeight site, examines the data.
posted by Diablevert (162 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for posting--it's an excellent article, with a very clear and concise explanation of what the Bechdel Test is and isn't.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:59 AM on April 2


This is nicely written, too. Before I got to the math I chuckled at the deadpan serious treatment of Frozen: "Anna and Elsa discuss the isolationist policies of Arendelle, plans to build a snowman, and the time Elsa locked their civilization in an eternal winter."
posted by TreeRooster at 7:01 AM on April 2 [21 favorites]


As interesting as this is, given the incredibly low and at times problematic bar that the Bechdel test represents (which the article notes), I`m worried that we will see studios now just going for the bare minimum: we have two female characters! They exchanged a few words about the weather! We passed!
posted by nubs at 7:01 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


On the first test, we ran a regression to find out if passing the Bechdel test corresponded to lower return on investment. Controlling for the movie’s budget, which has a negative and significant relationship to a film’s return on investment,7 passing the Bechdel test had no effect on the film’s return on investment. In other words, adding women to a film’s cast didn’t hurt its investors’ returns, contrary to what Hollywood investors seem to believe.

The last sentence does not follow from the beginning of the paragraph, because they don't measure the effect of adding a women to a film's cast.

Also, they use a proportional return on investment, rather than absolute numbers, which of course privileges lower budget movies.

Not to say that their overall thrust isn't true/right/interesting, but it is 538 in a nutshell.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:02 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Just to keep building on my point, I think we need to develop the next step in the Bechdel test - do the female characters display character development; is there an arc to their story; are they confronted with meaningful choices and moments of moral development, and so forth. Harder to measure, I guess, but ultimately a better indication of what`s going on.
posted by nubs at 7:05 AM on April 2 [7 favorites]


Also, they use a proportional return on investment, rather than absolute numbers, which of course privileges lower budget movies.

They acknowledge that: "And while this might be a side effect of films with lower budgets tending to have higher returns on investment than films with higher budgets, it’s still a strong indicator that films with women in somewhat prominent roles are performing well."

And they did look at gross profits (i.e. absolute numbers): "On the second test, we ran a regression to find out if passing the Bechdel test corresponded to having lower gross profits — domestic and international. Also controlling for the movie’s budget, which has a positive and significant relationship to a film’s gross profits, once again passing the Bechdel test did not have any effect on a film’s gross profits."
posted by jedicus at 7:06 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I`m worried that we will see studios now just going for the bare minimum: we have two female characters! They exchanged a few words about the weather! We passed!

But that would be a step in the right direction though. And given that movie scripts generally don't have time for discussions about weather, script writers who are looking to pass the Test will probably default to the easier answer of giving the female characters plot-relevant things to talk about.

And if your female characters are talking about plot-relevant things, they'll probably at least start to be actual characters.

I think we need to develop the next step in the Bechdel test - do the female characters display character development; is there an arc to their story; are they confronted with meaningful choices and moments of moral development, and so forth

There are plenty of movies where the male characters don't display these traits.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:08 AM on April 2 [22 favorites]


I think we need to develop the next step in the Bechdel test - do the female characters display character development; is there an arc to their story;

That sounds very similar to the Mako Mori test:
The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.
I don't know that there's an MM test database set up yet.
posted by jedicus at 7:09 AM on April 2 [21 favorites]


Also, they use a proportional return on investment, rather than absolute numbers, which of course privileges lower budget movies.

You might want to search for the phrase "controlling for the movie's budget." You could begin by searching within the quotation from the article in your own comment.
posted by yoink at 7:15 AM on April 2


I like this article, because it doesn't try to sidestep the fact that the Bechdel test is a really rough yardstick, but still brings out how it's better than no yardstick at all. That discussion all too often derails into whether the test is an accurate measure.
posted by tyllwin at 7:26 AM on April 2 [6 favorites]


Yessss proving obvious things with statistics so it looks even stupider than usual to argue against them!

I think Bechdel is used because it's objective, whereas you can argue all day about whether someone has a narrative arc and whether it supports a male's story. The internet is not even in consensus about whether this is true of Mako Mori.
posted by capricorn at 7:27 AM on April 2 [6 favorites]


I'm glad they spent as much time on Frozen as they did. That movie was a hit entirely on the strength of its story and characters -- the entire advertising campaign (at least what I saw of it, in the U.S.) was focused on the (male) sidekicks, or said nothing about the main characters being sisters. It was presented as male as possible, and (not surprisingly since the male characters and story arcs were less important to the overall story) made the movie seem incredibly pedestrian and even dull. I went with my 5 year old because I knew it would be safe (Disney) and it looked harmless. Other animated movies like Turbo and Planes I said no to, because from watching the previews it looked like they had serious token-girl / no-girls syndrome, and while I'll watch those at home, I won't spend box office money on them if I have a choice. Frozen was a mess in a lot of ways, but it enchanted my son and I was really taken aback at how beautiful it was and how good its message in the end. So much so that I took my parents (and son again) when we had the chance - and I never see movies twice.

Stories about women matter. It's hard to quantify this in financial terms because you can't count how much a movie would make, if it never gets made. But I am not surprised if there's a correlation between movies that have meaningful, real women's roles and movies that make money. Who wants to see the 1000th film about a bunch of boys and maybe one girl who isn't as good? Unless that movie is fantastic on its other merits, and those are rare, I know I sure don't.
posted by Mchelly at 7:27 AM on April 2 [14 favorites]


You might want to search for the phrase "controlling for the movie's budget." You could begin by searching within the quotation from the article in your own comment.

You may want to think more and snark less.

Controlling for the budget doesn't do much, because it is almost impossible for a half a million dollar budget movie to have a 10x return on its investment, while its not impossible for a low budget movie of 100k to make a million dollars.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:29 AM on April 2


I like this article, because it doesn't try to sidestep the fact that the Bechdel test is a really rough yardstick, but still brings out how it's better than no yardstick at all.

I think the most effective thing about the Bechdel test is its parsimony. Its incredibly simple. Moreover, it changes how you watch movies. You can keep the Bechdel test in the back of your mind as you watch a movie.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:31 AM on April 2 [10 favorites]


I`m worried that we will see studios now just going for the bare minimum: we have two female characters! They exchanged a few words about the weather! We passed!

I think one of the main points of the Bechdel Test is that there is an enormous difference between thinking at all and not thinking about the role of women characters in your movie. Once a writer asks himself "Are the women in this scene talking about anything other than men?" Pandora's Box is already open.
posted by straight at 7:41 AM on April 2 [18 favorites]


Controlling for the budget doesn't do much, because it is almost impossible for a half a million dollar budget movie to have a 10x return on its investment, while its not impossible for a low budget movie of 100k to make a million dollars.

Honestly confused: do you mean a half billion budget movie will have a tough time getting a 10x return? Because a $500k movie making $5 million seems pretty plausible.

If I understand you rightly, you think the ideal test case here would be to compare the returns of two big-budget action movies, one with two developed female leads and one without? That comparing say, The Avengers to some indie chamber piece is stacking the deck in the indie's favor, because it's far easier to have outperformance at lower budget?

But on the other hand, isn't that what controlling for something statistically is all about? Making the adjustment so we can say, "it's typical for successful big action films to make a 10% return, so this film's 20% return is twice expectation, whereas it's typical for successful indie films to have a 50 percent return, so a 100 percent return would be twice expectation"?
posted by Diablevert at 7:49 AM on April 2


its not impossible for a low budget movie of 100k to make a million dollars

The winners here are Mad Max, which earned about $100,000,000 globally on production costs of less than $500,000 and Blair Witch Project which earned about $250,000,000 globally on production costs of less than $600,000.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:58 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I'm currently writing a story that has two POV characters, both male. Not exactly the easiest setting to try to pass the Bechdel test, but it did not present much difficulty to have two female characters talk to each other in the presence of a POV character without his participation, about fairly important plot points.
posted by chimaera at 8:05 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


I think we need to develop the next step in the Bechdel test - do the female characters display character development; is there an arc to their story; are they confronted with meaningful choices and moments of moral development, and so forth

There are plenty of movies where the male characters don't display these traits.


Very true; perhaps what I want to develop is a test for determining whether or not the movie has a story and characters, or if it is just an excuse to blow the budget on CGI and special effects.
posted by nubs at 8:08 AM on April 2


When you pay actors to be in a film, they should add value to the story/viewer's experience. The writers have a good case for meaningful dialogue. Sure, the article points out a nail polish discussion as an example-did it advance the plot? Reveal more about the character besides their love interest?
posted by childofTethys at 8:08 AM on April 2


I`m worried that we will see studios now just going for the bare minimum: we have two female characters! They exchanged a few words about the weather! We passed!

And that would still be better than the situation right now.
posted by jb at 8:11 AM on April 2 [7 favorites]


Honestly confused: do you mean a half billion budget movie will have a tough time getting a 10x return? Because a $500k movie making $5 million seems pretty plausible.

Oops. Yes this is exactly what I mean. I miswrote.


Controlling for budget won't solve the problem entirely, because the thing being measured (the return of investment) cannot be disentangled from the budget itself.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:13 AM on April 2


And that would still be better than the situation right now.

Nearly half of the films surveyed appeared to pass the test, if I remember correctly. Either this means the universe of films in their statistical analyses was skewed towards qualifying films, or the situation of women in Hollywood movies is not as bad as it could be, and may even be decent.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:19 AM on April 2


I love the thrust of this analysis. Specifically, I'm a big believer in the idea that passing the Bechdel test tells you almost nothing about any given movie, but it can tell you a lot about movie attitudes in the aggregate: say, by comparing the passing rates of different genres, or of different decades.

Of course, like any indicator, once people start paying attention to the Bechdel test, its usefulness as a measurement will head toward zero.

One of the issues I had with the analysis:

Looking at the above chart, it’s remarkable to see that films that had at least two women in them got higher budgets than films that didn’t, but only when those women never spoke to one another...These median budget numbers suggest that Hollywood puts more money behind male-only films than films in which women talk to each other.

No, I don't think it does. As a methodological point, it could just be that small-budget movies pass the Bechdel test more frequently than big-budget movies, but that Bechdel-passing big-budget movies are funded just as much as Bechdel-failing big-budget movies.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 8:19 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


Nearly half of the films surveyed appeared to pass the test, if I remember correctly. Either this means the universe of films in their statistical analyses was skewed towards qualifying films, or the situation of women in Hollywood movies is not as bad as it could be, and may even be decent.

It's a half-empty, half-full sort of thing, I guess. I see less than 50 percent of films passing the Bechdel test, which, as others have pointed out, is such a miniscule bar to hurdle, as a catastrophic failure.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:27 AM on April 2 [12 favorites]


I`m worried that we will see studios now just going for the bare minimum: we have two female characters! They exchanged a few words about the weather! We passed!

Adding a line about the weather by itself is hardly going to affect what the producers care about- the box office. So, I doubt that outcome.
posted by asra at 8:31 AM on April 2


Yeah, for me the thing that sort of shines a bright "uh..." light on the otherwise sorta kinda heartening relative contemporary numbers is what happens when you apply the the opposite test: look for movies that have two male characters who have a conversation with each other about something other than a woman. Or, more to the point, try to find movies that don't.
posted by cortex at 8:31 AM on April 2 [11 favorites]


Nearly half of the films surveyed appeared to pass the test, if I remember correctly. Either this means the universe of films in their statistical analyses was skewed towards qualifying films, or the situation of women in Hollywood movies is not as bad as it could be, and may even be decent.

I think "not as bad as you might suspect" would be a fair read, but the piece openly acknowledges that it's likely biased towards test-passing movies, because it's drawing from the Bechdel Test website for its data about what movies pass and what don't. I think it's a pretty safe assumption that anyone who's bothering to read and contribute to that site is more likely to seek out and watch test-passing movies, so the pool of films listed is likely to be biased towards test-passing movies.
posted by Diablevert at 8:32 AM on April 2


I'm on the "catastrophic failure" side of that viewpoint as well; over half of the films surveyed failing to clear a bar so low it is barely a bar, depresses the hell out of me.

I'll throw Kelly DeConnick's Sexy Lamp Test in here too. I think it originated from a comic book context, bur works for movies too "If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft."

I suspect that the number of screenplays that would fail the Sexy Lamp Test is also depressing as hell.
posted by Stacey at 8:37 AM on April 2 [21 favorites]


Nearly half of the films surveyed appeared to pass the test, if I remember correctly. Either this means the universe of films in their statistical analyses was skewed towards qualifying films, or the situation of women in Hollywood movies is not as bad as it could be, and may even be decent.

It's got to be skewed, considering that what would otherwise be the headline (if not for the statistical-ROI angle of the piece) is buried in the middle of the article:
Of 4,475 speaking roles in those films, 28.4 percent were women.
("Those films" refers to everything released in 2012, which I'd hazard is a typical year. The study it's taken from is available in pdf. This point has been discussed at some length before but it deserves to be kept in mind that if movies featuring women don't get shown anywhere, they don't make money.)
posted by psoas at 8:40 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


It's a half-empty, half-full sort of thing, I guess. I see less than 50 percent of films passing the Bechdel test, which, as others have pointed out, is such a miniscule bar to hurdle, as a catastrophic failure.

It's ridiculous and embarrassing that half of films made can't pass such a minimal test. I'm sure that almost every film would pass a Ledhceb test of two men talking; the failure to write and cast female roles is a systemic failure by the film industry.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:51 AM on April 2 [6 favorites]


This is an interesting graph. It makes me wish that the rankings went back to the 1920s. Does it keep getting lower? Plateau? Or are there mountains and valleys?
posted by dgaicun at 8:52 AM on April 2


the situation of women in Hollywood movies is not as bad as it could be, and may even be decent.

Yeah, I wouldn't say "as likely as not to elide women almost completely" is "decent."
posted by KathrynT at 8:57 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


I think the main worth of this article is that it provides an empirical-enough refutation to "Hollywood insider" bullshit like this:
Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov has made a new decree that “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead”.
For Christ's sake, that quote is from 2007, and Robinov was in charge at Warner through 2013.

Prior to this article, it's been easy for "Hollywood insiders" to say, well, you don't really understand Hollywood like we do. Argument from authority, as it were. Now, there are actual numbers to argue back with, which makes it a bit more difficult for the bullshit to be taken at face value.

There are a thousand other things that need to be done about women's representation in media, and this is just one of them. But it's a big one.
posted by scrump at 9:12 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


That sounds very similar to the Mako Mori test

I love the article The Bechdel Test (for Bechdel Tests) as a takedown of the "Mako Mori test". Like many other commenters already noted; the Bechdel Test works so well because it's objective.
posted by deathmaven at 9:20 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


“Movies that are female-driven do not travel,” said Krista Smith, West Coast editor of Vanity Fair, describing the broader sentiment in Hollywood.

But I'm not asking for them to be female-driven, as great as that would be. I just want Wyldstyle and Unikitty to have a conversation so the goddamn Lego Movie would pass the Bechedel Test.

The bar is so freaking low and they're not even attempting to step over it.

Heading it off now: no, they do not have a conversation. There's one scene where Wyldstyle addresses a line to Unikitty, but Unikitty replies to the crowd at large and not to Wyldstyle.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:31 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


they don't measure the effect of adding a women to a film's cast.

...Not sure what you mean by this?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on April 2


...Not sure what you mean by this?

It only compares, and can only compare, different films with different casts. Its not like they have a control of two identical films and the only variable is the number of women.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:05 AM on April 2


The great thing about the Bechdel Test, as others have pointed out, is that it's so simple and objective. Either a movie passes, or it doesn't. There is no arguing over whether a female character is well-developed, has her own independent story arc, blah blah blah. Either there are more than two women with names in the movie or there aren't. Either they have a conversation with each other or they don't. Either the conversation is about a man or it isn't. The end.

The other great/depressing thing is that once you know about the Bechdel Test, it's really damned hard to un-know it. It's hard not to run everything you watch through it. And when it becomes evident just how many movies and TV episodes we watch DO NOT PASS SUCH A FREAKING LOW BAR, it becomes glaringly obvious just how male-centric North American (Western?) popular culture is.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:08 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]


First of all, if the Bechdel test's aim is to foster the creation of art that includes women as well-rounded characters, why are we talking about profits? If studio execs went and played with the data and came back with, "Hey actually we proved that submarine movies with all dudes make the most money," would that then make it OK to make only those type of movies from now on and never cast a woman again?

Second, while I would call myself a feminist and understand the importance of this issue, I am also a filmmaker, and I will never believe that any sort of "purity test" should be applied to works of art. I understand and applaud the intent, but I think the answer is the creation and greenlighting of more female-driven stories by writers who *want* to write those stories, not trying to make writers meet a minimum requirement that might not be part of the story they want to tell.

Some movies take place somewhere like a submarine with an all-male crew. Some movies only have one character, period. And yes, some writers just want to tell stories about men. Certainly we need other, new voices so that the male ones don't monopolize everything. But as an artist I will never be able to believe that individual works can or should be evaluated "pass/fail" for political reasons, no matter how laudable they may be.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:17 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


They acknowledge that: "And while this might be a side effect of films with lower budgets tending to have higher returns on investment than films with higher budgets, it’s still a strong indicator that films with women in somewhat prominent roles are performing well."

And they did look at gross profits (i.e. absolute numbers): "On the second test, we ran a regression to find out if passing the Bechdel test corresponded to having lower gross profits — domestic and international. Also controlling for the movie’s budget, which has a positive and significant relationship to a film’s gross profits, once again passing the Bechdel test did not have any effect on a film’s gross profits."
posted by jedicus at 10:06 AM


I've gotta fight you on this one. The problem with their analysis is in this one we can't see to what degree the profit performance is skewed, so when they post the line right before you quote where "The total median gross return on investment for a film that passed the Bechdel test was $2.68 for each dollar spent. The total median gross return on investment for films that failed was only $2.45 for each dollar spent. " We are seeing a tangible and quotable number. The problem isn't with the secondary analysis - its in insinuating that you will likely get a 9.4% better return. At a minimum, these numbers should have been split out into a Blockbuster / Mainstream / Independent segmentation. While this may have shown one category under-performing or presented too small a sample size for blockbusters for computation - the generalized model makes poor inference. I'd rather them say independent movies make 30% more and blockbusters make 7% more (numbers pulled out of my butt) - because that still shows they make more - and it accounts for critics who argue that the profit results skew by size.

It isn't that he makes a wrong assumption, or that he has a bad premise - its that he shows his results in this case - which make this part of his work questionable.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:21 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


But I'm not asking for them to be female-driven, as great as that would be. I just want Wyldstyle and Unikitty to have a conversation so the goddamn Lego Movie would pass the Bechedel Test.

I (should have) loved the Lego Movie - it was just the right mix of silliness and genre-savvy for me.

But yeah, about half-way through, I couldn't help but start getting annoyed at the relative lack of female characters and how they only interacted with the male characters. Wyldstyle was probably meant to be a "strong female character", but just came off as the new stereotyped love interest. I want to see myself on screen - I was to see schlubby female characters who aren't particularly attractive and who aren't the object of someone's desire but have their own (schlubby) storyline.

Also, there was one character they could have made female without changing the story one bit - or any of the animation or voice actors - and still made a strong statement for gender equality (especially in the context of Lego): the kid.
posted by jb at 10:25 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]


Second, while I would call myself a feminist and understand the importance of this issue, I am also a filmmaker, and I will never believe that any sort of "purity test" should be applied to works of art.

Basically nobody who discusses the Bechdel Test as a useful tool for media criticism is proposing any such purity test. It's a lens through which to view the medium and production environment in aggregate; the problem is not that there are individual movies in which the primary characters are male, the problem is that there's so proportionally few movies in which "the primary characters are male" isn't the normalized default.

You can still write your one man submarine script free from concern over purity tests. You can even spend your whole career writing one man submarine stories if that's what you're good at and find artistically rewarding. You may not be doing anyone any favors by reacting to concerns about a systemic lack of representation of women in films by using it as an opportunity primarily to defend your personal right to write one man submarine scripts, though.
posted by cortex at 10:28 AM on April 2 [15 favorites]


I will never believe that any sort of "purity test" should be applied to works of art.

Which is why the Bechdel test should be looked at in aggregate. There are some stories where it will make sense not to pass -- Gravity is a good example. But if, overall, half of all movies don't even pass this bar that is so low it is possibly underground, it says something about the culture in which these movies exist -- and, indeed, the culture in which you want to tell a story about men only men talking about men.
posted by jeather at 10:30 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]


I will never believe that any sort of "purity test" should be applied to works of art.

If you want your project financed by a bank or a set of investors, what should happen and what does happen are two very different stories. This is a large push for people to demonstrate that their project can be beneficial. Applying qualitative descriptive information about art which can be used to synthesize a quantitative return helps make one of the best cases for investors ever. If the film is good - well - that doesn't hurt either.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:45 AM on April 2


if the Bechdel test's aim is to foster the creation of art that includes women as well-rounded characters, why are we talking about profits?

Because one of the oft-dragged-out arguments against increasing female representation is that movies with women in them don't make money. "It's not our fault," says Hollywood, "we're just trying to make a buck!" Well according to the actual numbers, one thing they could maybe do to make more money is to increase the female representation.

If this statistical analysis was available to the author of TFA, then it's available to the people who greenlight movies. I know those people do an immense amount of market research when figuring out which movies to make, and when. So we're left with two conclusions to draw: either the Hollywood Movie Machine is clinging to sexism even though it costs them money, or it literally never occurred to them to look into this issue in depth. Which is worse?
posted by KathrynT at 10:47 AM on April 2 [11 favorites]


But as an artist I will never be able to believe that individual works can or should be evaluated "pass/fail" for political reasons, no matter how laudable they may be.

I don't think that either, but I don't think anyone's really talking about that. Because really, this whole thing is about commerce, not art. Movies are probably the art form most chained and constrained by commerce. Pretty much any individual has the power the write a novel or paint a painting or compose a song --- perhaps one of the great works of art of the age, if their talent is sufficient. Movies, though, you need so much upfront --- sets and costumes and cameras and editing software and lighting and makeup and actors and sound guys and on and on. Yes, in 2014 a lot of those things are cheaper than ever, it may be more possible now than at any time in history for one person to make an entire, good-looking, quality film. But even so, a lot of the stories you want to tell require very, very expensive toys for the telling -- a mere establishing shot of the scenery might need a crane shot, tracking, a professional camera operator. That means money, which means the lies that the money men have in their heads about what people will pay for are the appropriate locus of activism.
posted by Diablevert at 10:50 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I love the article The Bechdel Test (for Bechdel Tests) as a takedown of the "Mako Mori test". Like many other commenters already noted; the Bechdel Test works so well because it's objective.

Wow, what a terrible article. It's ragging on things like the Mako Mori test for actually involving study of the film, its characters, and its narrative, rather than being a mindless checklist that fails Run Lola Run and passes Baby Got Back.
posted by kafziel at 10:58 AM on April 2


> as an artist I will never be able to believe that individual works can or should be evaluated "pass/fail" for political reasons, no matter how laudable they may be

Movies are put into categories all the time. Genre, rating, theaters or straight to rental, etc. I don't see why "has two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men" vs "doesn't have female characters who talk to each other about something other than men" should be controversial, or at least any more controversial than the mild kurfuffle around all the other ways movies are sorted into baskets.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:15 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


It's ragging on things like the Mako Mori test for actually involving study of the film, its characters, and its narrative, rather than being a mindless checklist that fails Run Lola Run and passes Baby Got Back.

As a few people have already pointed out in this thread, being a mindless checklist can actually be a feature and not a bug, and in any case, the whole thing is a framework that absolutely no one thinks is the ultimate yes/no arbiter of quality. In the end, which test to prefer depends on which largely irrelevant argument you'd rather have to deal with: whether the Bechdel test by its nature fails to understand the wide range of wonderful films that may or may not happen to have multiple female characters who converse about things other than men or whether some dude can subject Star Wars/The Big Lebowski/Monty Python and the Holy Grail/etc. to a pained enough close reading to prove that it's a feminist masterpiece via the Mako Mori test.
posted by Copronymus at 11:31 AM on April 2


The reason it matters that studio execs are wrong is that "well, studios would make money with more/better female characters if they made more money, but ultimately studios are a business, and people aren't interested in women, so we'll just have to push for it against the odds and against human nature" and "wow studio execs (and maybe the average person) are just parroting this completely irrational sexist soundbyte-- it's not even true, it's just an excuse to maintain an old boys club, not try anything 'subversive,' and it's lazy." To me, it matters that sexism isn't just unfair, it's wrong. It emphasizes that sexism doesn't just keep women down, it is against the facts and against reason, and it doesn't encapsulate anything about human nature.

rather than being a mindless checklist that fails Run Lola Run and passes Baby Got Back

That's what makes it interesting, imo...
posted by stoneandstar at 11:42 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


>I'm currently writing a story that has two POV characters, both male. Not exactly the easiest setting to try to pass the Bechdel test, but it did not present much difficulty to have two female characters talk to each other in the presence of a POV character without his participation, about fairly important plot points.

Ah, but are they named? I'm not being facetious - I think being named implies they have a more significant relevance to the plot.
posted by Dragonness at 12:18 PM on April 2


Since, as the article points out, the percentage of films passing the Bechdel Test has plateaued it's now time to focus on the number of women involved in the production of films. Until there are more women writing/directing/producing/etc. it seems unlikely this imbalance will change.
posted by tommasz at 12:25 PM on April 2


Some movies take place somewhere like a submarine with an all-male crew

It's interesting to think about why there are numerous films that take place on submarines, and basically zero movies that take place in midwifery clinics.
posted by Sara C. at 12:25 PM on April 2 [9 favorites]


Nitpick: Gravity, despite its minimalist casting, actually does pass the Bechdel Test, as Sandra Bullock's character Stone has this brief exchange with Amy Warren's character Evans (the captain of the Explorer shuttle):
Stone: Explorer, engage arm and pivot to cargo bay.
Evans: Stand by for arm maneuver.
It's not much, but considering all the other aspects of the movie, I don't think its fair to say it fails by either the letter or the spirit of the test.

(I'd have mentioned it in the FiveThirtyEight article's comments, but it requires Facebook login. Booooo.)
posted by Rhaomi at 12:49 PM on April 2 [6 favorites]


It's interesting to think about why there are numerous films that take place on submarines, and basically zero movies that take place in midwifery clinics.

It's not actually that interesting. In submarines, the characters are literally in a bubble, the lives of the employees are at risk, and their actions can have effects on many people external to the bubble, and outside communication is difficult/rare. Kind of perfect for storytelling.

Midwives rarely die on the job, and while lives are in their hands, it's a onesie-twosie thing. And they get to go home at night.

If you're trying to encourage more necessarily women-driven movies, a better example could be a convent (for the isolation factor) or maybe a WWII era factory?.. I know for sure that there have been movies about women's prisons/insane asylums....
posted by sparklemotion at 12:53 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


I know for sure that there have been movies about women's prisons/insane asylums....

Some of them may not be sexploitation, even!
posted by sukeban at 12:56 PM on April 2


It's not actually that interesting.

Neither is actual life on a submarine, according to the submariners I've known. The exciting stories that make good movies are pretty exceptional. It sounds to me like you're comparing submarine movies with real-life midwifery -- kind of an unfair comparison.
posted by KathrynT at 1:02 PM on April 2 [6 favorites]


It's interesting to think about why there are numerous films that take place on submarines, and basically zero movies that take place in midwifery clinics.

Its rare that the babies are able to run silent enough to avoid the depth charges. There are high action female lead movies: fifth element (fails), Underworld (2 of the 4 pass), Resident Evil (all six pass), two silent hill (also both pass), and even Sucker Punch (Also passes with some controversy). Clearly I'm leaving off Sigourney's franchise since that is a bit of low hanging fruit.

You are right, there are very few movies on giving birth that make it to the screen: Rosemary's Baby (which incidentally passes the Bechdel test), What to expect when you are expecting (also passes), Baby Moma (also passes), Knocked Up (passes with controversy), and Junior (which has yet to be reviewed). Realistically though, there's very little about actual birthing that is funny in a real way, and running a drama about midwifery clinics is well... potentially triggering.

Do I think there should be an all female movie that takes place on a submarine? Well if it is historical, I think it would be an interesting story that I know nothing about, and if it isn't I'd love to see something not done in a sucker punch format which as soon as you state 'Women on a Sub' it sounds like material for the next high budget graphic novel b-movie interpretation. It might make more sense to give a very solid WWII home front movie about how our labor force went to almost all women during WWII - actually that would be a pretty awesome film and that really is surprising that that one hasn't been made yet.

Point being, you've made an apples to oranges comparison on genres and demographics and styles of movie.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:04 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


running a drama about midwifery clinics is well... potentially triggering.

Which is why Call The Midwife is doing so very badly?
posted by jeather at 1:13 PM on April 2 [8 favorites]


Nanukthedog, I was comparing the all-male environment of a submarine to the first all-female environment that came to mind. So it is absolutely apples-to-apples.

Sparklemotion actually makes my point better than I could with the examples of a convent, a factory on the homefront of WW2, or a prison. I can't think of any movies set in the former two settings, and while there are lots of women's prison movies, most are about how sexy the inmates are, not the actual issues that face incarcerated women.

The fact that it's hard to come up with movies with all female casts that aren't total Male Gazefests is pretty interesting.
posted by Sara C. at 1:14 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


you can just put women on fictional submarines and not worry about whether it's accurate or not too. given the other probable inaccuracies in fiction.
posted by twist my arm at 1:17 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


So it is absolutely apples-to-apples.

It's not really apples-to-apples though, because there are elements of a submarine setting that have the potential for a certain kind of good story that aren't present in a midwifery clinic.

Those elements exist (to a greater degree) in the other examples that I suggested.

A midwifery clinic at the top of a volcano that catered to delivering babies prophesied to be the messiah of one of the future dystopian world's varied warring sects? That would wear Das Boot a little better, I think.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:18 PM on April 2


It's not really apples-to-apples though, because there are elements of a submarine setting that have the potential for a certain kind of good story that aren't present in a midwifery clinic.

Women don't stop being pregnant during war. Sometimes they're pregnant because of war crimes. Sometimes hospitals are bombarded.

A midwifery hospital movie set during a war (and it's irrelevant if it's WW2 France or 2004 Baghdad) is in any case even a better place to film a story, because normally half of the soldiers in a submarine during wartime aren't dying if they can't get a cesarean and there's no antibiotics or anesthetics left.
posted by sukeban at 1:21 PM on April 2 [5 favorites]


The fact that it's hard to come up with movies with all female casts that aren't total Male Gazefests is pretty interesting.

I'm with your broader point in spirit, but your specific example actually makes this bias seem less "interesting", because if I'm a movie exec and I have to choose between betting millions of dollars on my ability to sell a submarine adventure and a day with a midwife, well that seems like a pretty fucking easy choice to make.

I personally don't believe choosing to have women driven films means giving up adventure and spectacle (see gravity, hunger games, et all) but the example you chose makes it feel exactly like that, which I feel only serves to undermine your broader point.
posted by Jezztek at 1:22 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Call the Midwife is a TV show, and a BBC one at that. BBC Television series and Hollywood have very different revenue structures. I would have called it out as an exception if it represented something that Hollywood could do in an hour and forty nine minutes.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:22 PM on April 2


I could give you a half-dozen midwifery stories that would make for compelling drama in a heartbeat. The midwife who performs extralegal abortions in a place where that's forbidden! the midwife who delivers the babies of female prisoners! the midwife who provides prenatal and well-woman care in the middle of a war! The black midwife who delivers black women's babies in the Reconstruction-era south! The midwife who is assisting the daughter of the local preacher / politician, who doesn't know she's pregnant! There are SO MANY stories there!

The closest thing to a film with an all-female cast (which it is very far from, but the main ensemble is all female) is the moderately terrible Practical Magic. And even that is about a love story in the end.
posted by KathrynT at 1:23 PM on April 2 [7 favorites]


KathrynT, if you can make those stories demonstrably profitable Hollywood will gladly make all six.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:25 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I just heard of a midwifery related story where a baby's head exploded.

That's much more interesting than anything that happened on a submarine.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:27 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


there are elements of a submarine setting that have the potential for a certain kind of good story that aren't present in a midwifery clinic.

The only reason this is true is because our culture teaches us to think that men are active while women are passive.

While obviously the entire birthing center isn't going to explode, contaminating the oceans forever with nuclear waste, that's not a realistic thing to happen on a submarine, either.

For pure story elegance, you'd probably want some kind of external issue that puts Our Heroes The Midwives in danger and not just the birthing woman and/or baby being born. But surely a blizzard or an earthquake in the vicinity of a birthing center is more likely to actually happen in the real world than some kind of disastrous nuclear submarine accident.

Perhaps it would be more apples-to-apples to compare a film taking place in a birthing center to a film like The Perfect Storm, where the cast is all male simply because it's about a fishing boat. The danger in the movie isn't really inherent to the fishing boat setting. You could make an equally dramatic movie about a sorority party on a yacht. But nobody does. Because when dudes do stuff, it's exciting. When women do stuff, it's inherently less exciting.
posted by Sara C. at 1:27 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


KathrynT, if you can make those stories demonstrably profitable Hollywood will gladly make all six.

This is what's so frustrating, these moving goalposts. First movies are just coincidentally all-male because those are the exciting stories. Then, when all-female exciting stories come on the screen, they have to be profitable -- and not just profitable, but DEMONSTRABLY profitable. How do you make them demonstrably profitable without making the movie? How do you make the movie when you have the people who run the movie business saying they aren't going to make any more movies with female leads?!
posted by KathrynT at 1:30 PM on April 2 [11 favorites]


KathrynT, if you can make those stories demonstrably profitable Hollywood will gladly make all six.

I'm not sure that's true. The point that KathrynT and Sara C. (and TFA) are trying to make is that Hollywood doesn't necessarily make what's demonstrably profitable. Hollywood makes what the greenlighters think is demonstrably profitable, and those greenlighters tend to have some blinders on when it comes to female-driven stories (or actual female characters, which is what the Bechdel Test is all about).

(I really want to watch a Midwife Action (or even horror/thriller) movie now, btw).
posted by sparklemotion at 1:30 PM on April 2 [4 favorites]


KathrynT: "The closest thing to a film with an all-female cast (which it is very far from, but the main ensemble is all female) is the moderately terrible Practical Magic. And even that is about a love story in the end."

The Women ... Remake ... though of course they're largely about women's relationships with men. (The 1939 original is excellent; the 2008 remake is awful.) Even the animals, portraits, and statuary in the 1939 film are all women, going so far as to replace a couple of statues in one of the museum settings with comparable male statues. But of course that's the conceit of the movie.

sparklemotion: "It's not actually that interesting. In submarines, the characters are literally in a bubble, the lives of the employees are at risk, and their actions can have effects on many people external to the bubble, and outside communication is difficult/rare. Kind of perfect for storytelling. Midwives rarely die on the job, and while lives are in their hands, it's a onesie-twosie thing. And they get to go home at night.

I sincerely hope you're kidding or trolling because, OMG SERIOUSLY WTF and, if serious, this is exactly the sort of total failure of imagination that leads to so few films featuring women and/or women's lives and/or women's experiences.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:35 PM on April 2 [10 favorites]


if you can make those stories demonstrably profitable Hollywood will gladly make all six.

Sure. But the problem with that is that the conventional wisdom is that a movie needs to be a "four quadrant" movie in order to get a greenlight. That means you need to be able to sell it to older men, younger men, older women, and younger women.

To pick out a real life example, let's talk about The Hunger Games. THG as a book was already popular with young women, and maybe older women as well (not sure what the demographic data for THG series is wrt women over 35). Young men will go because their female friends are going already. Casting Jennifer Lawrence cements the young male demographic and likely brings in some of the older male demographic as well. Now you've got a movie that everybody is willing to watch, and with very solidly demonstrable numbers behind at least some of those quadrants.

This is part of why it's so easy to make a movie based on pre-existing IP. You don't have to either speculate or pay for a bunch of focus groups to see what people are willing to watch. If you make a Lego movie, you've automatically got young people of both genders, and probably parents of both genders as well. Because everybody already knows and likes Lego. If you make a Disney Princess movie, you've automatically got three quadrants (young girls/women, parents of both genders), and the numbers are strong enough in the first three quadrants that the fourth is just gravy.

It's easy to sell a male-dominated submarine movie along the four quadrant plan. Young and old men will definitely see it, and the wisdom is that young women will get dragged along by their boyfriends (especially if you cast some hunky young stars), and older women are the "gravy" quadrant.

It's really, really hard to sell a female-dominated movie that's not based on wildly successful pre-existing IP, because the conventional wisdom is that men won't voluntarily go see "chick movies".
posted by Sara C. at 1:35 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


If I'm reading the article correctly, they are getting their data from one or more 'bechdel test' database sites out there. I wouldn't be surprised if those have a slight bias towards films that pass the test, since it's crowdsourced data and people might be more stoked to say "hey, this obscure thing passes! check it out!" and add that.

Wild-assed guessing, here, just to be clear.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:40 PM on April 2


Anyone know anything about how "The Descent" got made? It actually fails the reverse Bechdel test.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:49 PM on April 2


sorry, but I have to come back to this -

It only compares, and can only compare, different films with different casts. Its not like they have a control of two identical films and the only variable is the number of women.

But are you saying that this is because casting women as opposed to men has an impact on the cost of making the movie, which would in turn affect the profit/bottom line stuff? Or that it needs to be a factor which is also considered in such an analysis?

(For the record, I think that this is a plausible question - I'd love to see an analysis of "the average pay rates for an actress vs. an actor" - but I also understand why such a thing may have been left out of this study, because there are so many variables insofar as casting goes that it may be ultimately not a factor after all.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:50 PM on April 2


Anyone know anything about how "The Descent" got made? It actually fails the reverse Bechdel test.

The women in The Descent are all hot. So, the male gaze is still satisfied.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:51 PM on April 2


Actually, watching The Women (1939 version) is an interesting aid in thinking about this discussion. The first time I saw the movie, I ran across it in the first third while flipping channels on cable, got sucked in, and then was like, "Wait, why do they keep calling to their husbands off screen but never showing the husbands? Has this been weirdly time-trimmed for cable?" So it's noticeable even to a casual viewer how much work the movie has to do to remove men from the scene completely. (And it is a movie about relationships and infidelity, so it's not like a shoot-em-up space adventure; it does more twisting around because of its subject matter and that is by design.)

But if you watch it with this conversation in mind, you start noticing that The Women elides men in many of the same ways that modern mainstream Hollywood films elide women -- having the women talk to each other about a particular man's thoughts, when it would be much easier to have the man speak for himself; having women discuss a man's actions, when it would be easier to have the man on screen performing those actions; choosing incidental characters (even extras! even dogs!) so that they're all women; even choosing set dressing and settings (paintings, etc.) that are exclusively female. All public and business life in the film take place in settings dominated by women -- perfume counters, divorce ranch boarding houses, fashion shows, women's restrooms -- and men are excluded because they would be out of place.

When you start to view it through this lens, you start to realize how much narrative twisting a lot of mainstream movies do rather than have stand-alone female characters. Having two men talking ABOUT a woman's reactions and thoughts, rather than talking to her, is so common as to pass totally unremarked, until you get alert to it through comparing it to The Women. Because watching The Women exclude men, all those narrative tricks come into sharp focus because it's so ODD to see men excluded, but watching a regular movie, the narrative tricks are so common and familiar that they completely fade into the background. But really, what you're seeing is exactly what The Women did on purpose: the filtering of other characters through a specific character's POV. Which is fine if you're doing it on purpose. But far too many movies do it simply because viewing the world through a male POV is seen as normative, and lazy moviemakers (of whatever sort) do it out of reflex, and then are completely puzzled -- as some are in this thread -- as to why making the male POV normative rather than understanding it as a POV is seen as a problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:52 PM on April 2 [13 favorites]


But are you saying that this is because casting women as opposed to men has an impact on the cost of making the movie, which would in turn affect the profit/bottom line stuff? Or that it needs to be a factor which is also considered in such an analysis?

No, I'm saying that they can't make the two identical versions and box office releases of the same movie, and have one be the test (with many women) and one be the control (with not many women)
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:54 PM on April 2


Sara C.: "because the conventional wisdom is that men won't voluntarily go see "chick movies"."

And look, women won't DRAG their boyfriends to go see it (the way men allegedly drag their girlfriends to action films), because everyone knows women are physically weaker in the upper body. It's just a biological fact! /sarcasm
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:56 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Anyone know anything about how "The Descent" got made?

It's worth noting that The Descent was low-budget horror, on top of being full of eye-candy as already mentioned. Horror movies tend to make money regardless, and $7 million isn't that hard to fund privately.
posted by Sara C. at 2:03 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that's true. The point that KathrynT and Sara C. (and TFA) are trying to make is that Hollywood doesn't necessarily make what's demonstrably profitable. Hollywood makes what the greenlighters think is demonstrably profitable, and those greenlighters tend to have some blinders on when it comes to female-driven stories (or actual female characters, which is what the Bechdel Test is all about).

But fundamentally when approaching this topic we need to know if the studio execs are right about female driven movies being a tougher sell than male driven ones. You can't really have any meaningful discussion on whether these execs are right about this, or that they are simply blinded by their biases without trying to find if the data supports this assertion. And this is what TFA and so many commenters seem to be missing is that the claim made by these greenlighters has absolutely nothing to do with the bechdel test. If I make the claim that female driven movies are a harder sell, you can't disprove my point without looking at the B.O. results of female driven movies. Movies that pass the bechdel test aren't in any way the same thing as female driven.

For example, Die Hard passes the test because there is a brief conversation between Holly Gennaro and her secretary (whom she calls by name). Having a scene like that in the movie doesn't make it female driven by any stretch of the imagination. If hypothetically the studio execs are right in that there are a lot of guys that won't see a "womens" movie, it doesn't follow that these dude-bros would refuse to see Die Hard because there was a brief exchange between women. Conversely people who are hungry for films with more meaningful roles for women aren't going to go see Die Hard because of this scene.

To say that comparing the profitability of movies that pass the bechdel test is the same thing as comparing the profitability of female driven films to male driven films is downright absurd.

But I think the bechdel test is important, and meaningful precisely because it is such a low bar. As such virtually all movies that take place outside of a WWII submarine could pass it just by populating their worlds with women that, you know, actually participate (just imagine!). So even *if* the execs are right, and female driven moves are a riskier sell, that might explain why there are fewer female *driven* movies, but doesn't absolve them from not having more women even in the supporting roles, and simply populating their worlds as meaningful participants, because the ease of passing the bechdel test, and the fact that it is *not* comparable to having a female driven movie is a saw that cuts both ways: You can't say "but female driven movies are riskier" and have that excuse not passing the test. You can keep your scowling bro-dude anti-hero lead, but also have him live in a world with the crazy idea where 50% of the population still matters.

And all that is under the assumption that these execs are right about their business, and that female driven films are riskier and less profitable on average, which is something this article about the bechdel test, and these carefully selected counter examples of successful female driven movies don't do anything to disprove. On the flip side, we don't have any date in front of us to *prove* their assertion either, but it seems like most people in these conversations just decide a priori whether that statement is true depending on their personal ideologies, and not any cold hard data.

To actually try and test this we would need to take a look at all films that could be sorted into male and female main character. Since the conventional wisdom is that female driven is a tougher sell then male driven, the rare tentpole films that are female driven and get greenlit tend to be based on material with a proven fanbase, since that helps balance out the risk (twilight, hunger games, and disney princesses all have/had large pre-existing fan bases). So you'd have to compare female led adaptations vs. male led adaptations, and female led non-adaptations to male led non-adaptations. Finally you'd also have to sort by budget, since the female driven movies that do get greenlit tend to be smaller budget, as that poses less risk then big budget movies.

So we need to compare big budget female lead adaptations to big budget male led adaptations, and small budget female driven original works and small budget male driven original works, and so forth in order to even start to prove or disprove the movie executives claims. The thing is all of that data is out there, so this isn't an impossible task to actually crunch the numbers and see if the execs claims have any merit, which I feel is a pretty important fundamental to having a meaningful conversation of this topic. This particular article most definitely *did not* do that however, so taking the authors report as a slam dunk proof the conventional wisdom about female driven movies is bunk, is itself, bunk.
posted by Jezztek at 2:10 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Here is the box office returns for all movies of 2013. Of the top 10, the only one that isn't "based on material with a proven fanbase" is Gravity. I mean, dismissing Hunger Games because it's based on existing IP but not Iron Man is a little weak.
posted by KathrynT at 2:14 PM on April 2


all those narrative tricks come into sharp focus because it's so ODD to see men excluded, but watching a regular movie, the narrative tricks are so common and familiar that they completely fade into the background.

I had a small moment of this watching the most recent Hunger Games movie, when I realized Peta is essentially a damsel in distress; most of Katniss' heroism in the film is centered around her efforts to rescue him; he is the vulnerable one who can't be trusted to save himself and needs the protection of the hero. Whereas he just kinds of sits there providing emotional support and self-sacrificing love. And he's shorter than her to boot. (Of course, Katniss also has Gael, who is bigger than her and stronger than her and more of a hardass than her and whose wounds she tends; can't let her be too butch, now, can we?)

To your point about IP, Sara, I read another interesting article the other day which pointed out just exactly how much of Hollywood's profit these days is driven by ancillary licensing. To a large extent, it seems like the four quadrants aren't even that necessary anymore if you're able to pump out enough toys and bed sheets with the character's faces on them. (Although the article had interesting things to say about the bubbilicious nature of that income stream at the moment.) Thus the rise of Superhero movies. I kind of wonder whether that in itself doesn't exert some pressure: when you're drawing all your ideas from 30, 50, 75 year old toys and comic books and fantasy novels, how can you possibly reflect a modern sensibility which gives women equal weight?
posted by Diablevert at 2:14 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


And this is what TFA and so many commenters seem to be missing is that the claim made by these greenlighters has absolutely nothing to do with the bechdel test.

It's worth noting that there's no real connection between studios making films with female leads and the bechdel test as such.

It's not like there are a bunch of studio execs out there reading scripts, saying, "Wait, did I just count three named female characters? You're going to have to take two of them out if you want to make this movie."

There's nothing at all difficult about getting a test-passing movie green lit. Passing the bechdel test is all about writers remembering that women exist, not about studio executives making a commitment to female-led projects.
posted by Sara C. at 2:15 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


And all that is under the assumption that these execs are right about their business, and that female driven films are riskier and less profitable on average, which is something this article about the bechdel test, and these carefully selected counter examples of successful female driven movies don't do anything to disprove.

Isn't Frozen the highest grossing animated film of all time, now?
posted by Sara C. at 2:18 PM on April 2


There's nothing at all difficult about getting a test-passing movie green lit. Passing the bechdel test is all about writers remembering that women exist, not about studio executives making a commitment to female-led projects.

Is this directed at me? Because that's exactly the point I made in my 4th paragraph.
posted by Jezztek at 2:18 PM on April 2


Isn't Frozen the highest grossing animated film of all time, now?

Yes, but you can't simply choose a cherry picked example, and claims it proves your point. You need to compare the average of all the appropriate movies. The studio execs aren't saying "It is impossible for a female driven movie to do well" they are saying "female driven moves are a harder sell, and thus riskier than male driven movies. So if you have to choose between a male driven film and a female driven one, all things being equal, we pick the male driven one"

Now if their point was the former, the yeah, saying Frozen exists would be slam dunk, but no one is arguing that particular straw man.
posted by Jezztek at 2:21 PM on April 2


The closest thing to a film with an all-female cast (which it is very far from, but the main ensemble is all female) is the moderately terrible Practical Magic. And even that is about a love story in the end.

What about Bridesmaids? That was partially great because, in theory, it sounds like it should be about the wedding which would make it guy-centric but it completely isn't, it's about the women and their relationships and arcs. Yeah, there's a love story, but the real love story is between Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph. Also, that movie made a ton of money.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:24 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Thanks for writing that Sara C. - You get exactly my point. My wife won't see a movie like the Expendables*, and I won't see a movie like Eat, Pray, Love* except we both occasionally do - and we both get reinforced into us that it isn't our cup of tea. The Expendables had an $80MM budget and made $274.5MM**. Eat, Pray, Love had a $60MM budget and made $204.6MM****. The Expendables profited $2.43 per dollar spent***, Eat Pray Love made 2.41 per dollar spent. By efficiency, they made basically the same amount. The advantage of the expendables is it franchises easier. Eat Pray Love II - or even a second Elizabeth Gilbert movie - is a lot harder to necessarily magically get...

Now, with that said:
Bridget Jones Diary made $281.9MM gross costing $26MM ($9.84 PPRD)
Bridget Jones Diary 2 made $262.5MM gross costing $40MM ($5.56 PPRD)
The Expendables 2 made $311.9MM gross costing $100MM ($2.12 PPRD)
The Expendables 3 has a stated budget of about $100MM which means that they still think they can squeeze some profit out of the franchise.
Bridget Jones Diary 3 is currently held up by a feud allegedly between Zellweger and Fielding, but if past performance is an indicator of future success - there's a great chance it would be huge.

I'd add, if we adjusted for inflation Bridget Jones Diary would just blow these others out of the water. Likewise, the expendables wouldn't be continuing to be made if it weren't backed by the actors in the film.

*Note: neither of us liked the Expendables, and neither of us liked Eat Pray Love, I use those movies just as contextual indicators.
** Wikipedia
*** (Revenue - Budget)/Budget = Profit per revenue dollar (PPRD)
**** Wikipedia
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:24 PM on April 2


you can't simply choose a cherry picked example

How is the highest grossing animated film of all time an example of "cherry picking"?

If I'd said "but what about this one particular movie that had a female lead and did OK", that would be cherry picking. The fact that the highest grossing animated film of all time has two female leads and handily passes the bechdel test is not an insignificant random fact.
posted by Sara C. at 2:28 PM on April 2


How is the highest grossing animated film of all time an example of "cherry picking"?

That is pretty much the definition of cherry picking if the question at hand is "is the average male led film more profitable than the average female led film, all other factors being equal?"
posted by Jezztek at 2:32 PM on April 2


Is that a question anybody is asking?

That's not a metric actual studio execs are looking at when they decide whether to greenlight a film.
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on April 2


The reason they give for greenlighting so many fewer female led films is that they aren't as profitable, so if we are trying to evaluate this claim then that is the single most important question.
posted by Jezztek at 2:39 PM on April 2


But that's just a conventional wisdom thing. The execs aren't sitting there crunching numbers and arriving at that decision. If the studios were doing statistical analyses, they'd quickly see that female led movies are just as profitable as male led ones.
posted by Sara C. at 2:45 PM on April 2


What are you basing that on? The only time I've seen any data on this, the opposite was true (but that was 10+ years ago, and didn't control for everything I outlined above).
posted by Jezztek at 2:49 PM on April 2


I will never believe that any sort of "purity test" should be applied to works of art.

The Bechdel test is like BMI numbers -- it tells you a lot at the aggregate level, but at the individual level doesn't tell you if the person is a bodybuilder or is obese. An individual movie can fail the Bechdel test for good reasons (film is set on a submarine during WWII) or for poor reasons (too many examples to list). But when most films fail it, that tells you a lot about the industry and how it portrays women.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:53 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Sara C.: "It's interesting to think about why there are numerous films that take place on submarines, and basically zero movies that take place in midwifery clinics."

Das Baby?
posted by Sphinx at 2:54 PM on April 2


I just took a quick look at the top 10 grossing films for 2013.

Three were female led.

Five were male led.

Two were ensemble based with both male and female major characters.

The female led films ranked 1, 3, and 6, and made a combined 1.1 billion dollars.

The male led films ranked 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8, and made a combined 1.6 billion dollars. Yes, that's "more", but it's a larger total number of films.

It's also worth noting that two of the male driven films are superhero movies, and Warner Brothers (owners of the DC Universe) has gone on record saying that they will not consider making a female led superhero movie.

Of the four films that made more than $300 million, half were male led and half were female led.

Of the top three films in 2013, two were female led.
posted by Sara C. at 2:59 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I think to actually answer the question, what is needed is basically a similar analysis to TFA except instead of tagging each film as "passes Bechdel test" or "fails Bechdel test" (or the finer categories), they are tagged "Female led" or "Male led" (or the finer categories).
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 3:04 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Trivia tangent: anyone know of a female led movie that fails the Bechdel test, or a male led movie that fails the reverse?
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 3:06 PM on April 2


It's also worth noting that there are significantly more female led movies in the top 10 than there are in the top 30.

South of #10 the only female led movies are The Heat (#15, $159 Million gross, $43 million budget) and The Conjuring (basing this on the fact that Vera Farmigia is top billed, #19, $137 million gross, $20 million budget).

The further you go down the box office rankings, the less likely a film is to have a female lead.
posted by Sara C. at 3:06 PM on April 2


That's the beginning of a start, but to disprove their assertion you can't just look at the top 1 animated movie, or the top 10 films in one year, you need to look at all of the major studio releases across a decade at least, using data sets in the size and scope of the article. Picking the top 10 from one year simply doesn't matter in the scale we are talking about.

I'm not saying this as someone who is convinced male led movies do perform better, I wouldn't be surprised to find out male led movies don't give a significant advantage (as I mentioned above, the data I saw saying otherwise over a decade ago wasn't convincing to me because it didn't correct for some basic things, and is no doubt out of date).

But you can't simple ASSUME that female led movies are just as profitable because it makes us feel good, reaffirms our ideologies, or because the top 10 on a single year implies so.
posted by Jezztek at 3:10 PM on April 2


you need to look at all of the major studio releases across a decade at least

Why look at such ridiculously outdated numbers, though?

By looking only at movies from a decade ago, you force the status quo to continue. By pointing at recent years when female led films performed not only solidly at the box office, but outperformed male led films by certain metrics, you can compare apples to apples. What does it matter what the box office numbers looked like in 2003, if we're thinking about what movies to green light in 2015?
posted by Sara C. at 3:18 PM on April 2


I think to actually answer the question, what is needed is basically a similar analysis to TFA except instead of tagging each film as "passes Bechdel test" or "fails Bechdel test" (or the finer categories), they are tagged "Female led" or "Male led" (or the finer categories).

Exactly this.

Going back to Sara C. the fact that you didn't reply with a link to an serious statistical analysis (along the lines of that was in the article) when I asked for your source, but instead you seem seem to be scrambling to hastily put together some evidence to support your claim after the fact leads me to believe you didn't have any hard data on this when you made the claim "If the studios were doing statistical analyses, they'd quickly see that female led movies are just as profitable as male led ones." Instead it looks like you were just shooting from the hip with what you assumed must be true. Which is what I think the whole damn problem is, people on one side assuming female led movies are worse than male led one because of what they feel in their guts, and then folks like you saying the reverse for the same reasons, when what we need is serious data crunching on the topic and not just "hey, look at these examples" vs "oh yeah? But Catwoman bombed".
posted by Jezztek at 3:20 PM on April 2


By looking only at movies from a decade ago...

I said across a decade, meaning the most recent 10 years of data, not only looking at movies from a decade ago. You need to do that for the obvious reason that when looking at statistics like there there are year to year variances that you need to ameliorate. But of course when breaking down the data you could produce trend lines to show what change over time has been taking place.
posted by Jezztek at 3:23 PM on April 2


For what it's worth, the top 10 highest grossing films of the entire decade of the 2000s doesn't include a single film with a female lead.

The top grossing film of the 2000s with a female lead is Twilight: New Moon, from 2009, at $279 million.

The next female led movie is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, at #43 (2002, $241 million).

Just to make sure looking at the decade as a whole wasn't leaving out some important results, I looked at the top 10 grossing films of 2004. Not a single movie with a female lead.

Looking more recently than the last decade --

2012 has another Hunger Games, a Twilight movie, and Brave in the top 10.

2011: a Twilight movie, and that's it. Bridesmaids is also worth noting for 2011, despite not making the top 10. (It cost $30 million and made $288 million, which is nothing to be ashamed of.)

2010: Alice in Wonderland, another goddamn Twilight movie, Tangled.

So looking at recent years which are actually relevant, it looks like, just like for 2013, female led films definitely go head to head with male led films.
posted by Sara C. at 3:27 PM on April 2


I think it's telling that your cutoff for when a year is "relevant" just happens to be when you feel it supports your hypothesis. But regardless, unless you have been missing both mine and So You're Saying These Are Pants? points, looking at the top 10 (or 20) isn't nearly enough to prove your claim. There needs to be an actual statistical analysis to be able to draw any conclusions, and without that analysis neither side can make definitive claims on whether male led movies out perform female led movies.
posted by Jezztek at 3:33 PM on April 2


Trivia tangent: anyone know of a female led movie that fails the Bechdel test, or a male led movie that fails the reverse?

As I mentioned before, Run Lola Run is a good example. There are lots of female-led movies that fail the test. Hell, I'd argue that Mako Mori drives a lot more of Pacific Rim's narrative than any other character, and that fails too.

We don't really want movies that pass the Bechdel test. That's not a goal, that doesn't solve anything. What is wanted is for the film industry as a whole to widen its lens, and reflect that women have the same issues and roles and story potential as men. There are a lot of ways to measure progress on that front, but the Bechdel test isn't one of them.
posted by kafziel at 3:53 PM on April 2


I think it's telling that your cutoff for when a year is "relevant" just happens to be when you feel it supports your hypothesis.

I think recently made films are as a rule more relevant to current box office trends and projections of what the studios should do going forward.

I don't really see what's controversial about that. It's not like I'm pulling samples from the mid 70s or something.

What was working at the box office in 2005 is really not relevant to right now, at all. What was working in 2010 probably is.
posted by Sara C. at 3:57 PM on April 2


2010 probably is

2008 or 2009 is hardly a lifetime ago when trying to calculate the average on something like this, but you dismissed them for failing to support your hypothesis.
posted by Jezztek at 4:05 PM on April 2


[Frozen] -- the entire advertising campaign (at least what I saw of it, in the U.S.) was focused on the (male) sidekicks, or said nothing about the main characters being sisters.

Seems like the Australian campaign might have been different, since literally the only thing I know about the film is that the main characters are two sisters named Anna and Elsa (oh okay, and there's a talking snowman with lots of dark jokes about summer.)

I didn't see the film but I've seen the live performance staged by my daughter and her friends :-).
posted by nickzoic at 4:08 PM on April 2


Actually 2008 and 2009 probably go hand in hand with my "movies with female leads do as well as those with male leads", since there at least are female led films in the top 10 box office grosses for those years. Not as many as recently, but 1 or 2 out of 10 is still better than zero.

Either way, I'm fairly sure that, working along the same metrics that make male-led films successful (bankable stars, based on popular IP, critical acclaim doesn't hurt), a film with a female lead is as likely to do well at the box office as one with a male lead. Looking at the top 50 films of any given year, it's not like the bottom of the list is littered with chick flick garbage while all the successful films are manly explosionfests.

It seems like basically any movie with Sandra Bullock in the lead will make a squazillion dollars. Any movie based on a popular YA franchise, likewise, especially if it stars a cute up-and-coming ingenue. (Unless it's The Mortal Instruments, I guess?)
posted by Sara C. at 4:27 PM on April 2


Oh, and I forgot to mention, any animated movie with a princess is a shoe in for box office gold, as well.
posted by Sara C. at 4:29 PM on April 2


Top 10 grossing isn't a great measure either by the way. The real question is how categorically bechdel movies are performing. If 100 movies are made in an a year and 20 of them pass the bechdel test, do they comprise 20% of the overall industry profits made. If they may make 30 movies that pass the bechdel test in 2009 and none of them were in the top 10 movies, but if those 30 movies made at least 30% of the overall industry profit that year, it would be a demonstrably more efficient vehicle. (It would be tough for 30 non-top 10 films to generate 30% of the profit for the year, but not an impossibility.

So now, the questions really become: What studios are more bechdel friendly? How much of a % profit are those movies for the studios, individually and in aggregate? Is the profit growing on a year on year basis? Is the % profit growing on a year on year basis?

Hickey's article would lead one to believe that these movies are more profitable, I'd argue that there's a lot more that needs to be done to actually prove that to be the case. Now, likewise - I'm not saying that that doesn't mean that fewer movies should be made or that there isn't an equality - but form a strictly financial perspective rigor needs to be implemented to judge whether this is beneficial to a given studio or not.

There are some movies that just need to be made, but in the land of the cinema - the vast majority are going to be made not for merit of the argument, but for value of the return to investors.

Its possible that theater demographics - something that I don't know - might skew more female - I don't know the answer to that. But it is Hollywood's goal to separate as many of us as possible from our money - and that means if they think they can squeeze the cumulative us for more money by making a "Titanic 2: The Boat is Back" then expect more of that sort of movie.

Don't think these execs make these decisions without the data though. This article is a pretty convincing, albeit flawed argument - but business decisions are made on scale and scope and the size of our wallet.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:02 PM on April 2


Don't think these execs make these decisions without the data though.

From my experience actually working on films, I think it's the opposite, to be honest. You would be surprised how little actual statistical analysis goes into it, and how much of this stuff is based on conventional wisdom. The studios like numbers when it comes to acquiring a certain transmedia franchise (how many weeks was this on the bestseller list, how popular of a toy was this last Christmas), and I believe there's also a history of looking at how well a star's previous films did at the box office, or how a particular genre tends to perform.

But they're really not doing sophisticated analyses like this to determine things like whether to make a film with a female lead.

And, as previously stated, the bechdel test really isn't about anything at the level of studio executives. That's down to screenwriters.
posted by Sara C. at 5:08 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I think the first studio to Moneyball their production schedule is going to blow everyone else out of the water.
posted by Sara C. at 5:09 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Realistically though, there's very little about actual birthing that is funny in a real way

HILARIOUSLY untrue. My friends and I still crack up over the time I served as their backup birth partner, and the many adventures we had while the mother was in labor. Labor lasts a long time. Plenty of funny things happen. The mother was a part of those adventures, btw.

But here, too, is the point: a lot of people don't assume these experiences are multifaceted and silly and action packed, at least in part because we don't have 1,000 examples of famous movies about them. When I think of the sheer number of "awkward dude pines for impossible girl but SPOILER ALERT HE GETS HER ANYWAYYYYYY" movies throughout the history of cinema and the tragic lack of equivalent childbirth tales, my heart hurts a little. (Oh, and stories where a dude is a charming cad his whole life, terrified of commitment... but then he holds a baby in his arms and suddenly he CARES!!! do not count.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:31 PM on April 2 [4 favorites]


"I just heard of a midwifery related story where a baby's head exploded."

You can't just drop that without elaborating, c'mon.
posted by klangklangston at 5:43 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Sara C, Black Narcissus is set in a convent. Passes the Bechdel test by miles. Powell & Pressberger, well worth seeing.
posted by glasseyes at 6:35 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


<3 Powell & Pressberger.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:26 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: "Because when dudes do stuff, it's exciting. When women do stuff, it's inherently less exciting."

This is the thing that I don't get. Why the heck don't buddy action movies with female leads get made. The action would still be there and you'd have the "bonus" of supplying targets for male gaze. There isn't any reason to my mind that say "Bad Boys" couldn't have been "Bad Girls" starring Milla Jovovich and Angelina Jolie or Michelle Rodriguez and Kate Beckinsale. Even applying the four quarters test for projected profitability discussed earlier it doesn't seem like Bad Girls would suffer. Yet I can only think of a handful of movies like that.
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Probably for the same reason that Skyler White and Catelyn Stark are everyone's least favorite characters, but this is a derail.
posted by Sara C. at 8:04 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


My general feeling is that part of the construction of patriarchy is that most protagonists are male, so women grow up having learned the ability to see themselves through the eyes of a male protagonist, whereas a lot of men have difficulty doing the reverse. Thus stories featuring women as leads are shoved into the 'chick flick' ghetto, regardless of content.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:06 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Why the heck don't buddy action movies with female leads get made.

Resident Evil did, if you want an existence proof.

Honestly, I doubt it will be too many years before someone throws Gina Carano into a buddy-ish movie with Jovovich or Rodriguez or someone with similar screen personalities. They already have a movie with her going all apeshit to find who stole her hubby in *looks* _In the Blood_.

Even in the here and now, if you could get Gina Carano and Zoe Bell in a movie where they team up to hurt people for some reason, it would be a license to print money.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:10 PM on April 2


It's interesting to me that a number of people here have referred to the Bechdel test as "objective", because I've always felt that the concept of "a conversation about something other than a man" is actually pretty ill-defined. Of course I'm not holding it against Bechdel herself-- she was riffing in a comic strip, not establishing qualitative methods for peer-reviewed research. But I have always wondered whether it's supposed to be defined in letter or in spirit; if two women talk about Van Gogh in a museum, is that "a conversation about a man"? If they're telling a story about their male friend's apartment search, is that a "a conversation about a man"? Or is "a conversation about a man" intended to mean discussion that specifically orients their own identity exclusively in relation to a man? Btw, these aren't at all intended as reductio ad absurdum / slippery slope examples to shut down conversation-- I think figuring out the answers to such questions would be helpful in making the test more of a useful and workable tool.
posted by threeants at 10:47 PM on April 2


Midwives rarely die on the job, and while lives are in their hands, it's a onesie-twosie thing.

while midwives might not die often, childbirth has historically been a leading cause of death.
posted by jb at 10:52 PM on April 2


ROU_Xenophobe: "
Resident Evil did, if you want an existence proof.
"

Ya, sorry. I know there are a few out there. They just are a vanishingly small percentage of the buddy action movie genre when I think they should be at a minimum a significant portion.
posted by Mitheral at 10:54 PM on April 2


also - it's really late so this will be a short comment:

I'm not a statistician, but I have worked for statisticians and scientists. When comparing the effect of gender in the context of something like arthritis, which affects more women than men, they do not do a random population sample. They get a community sample of ideally half-men, half-women and then compare them (controlling for other factors).

totally kosher to take 10 movies with female leads, 10 movies with male leads, and compare the effects on box office (controlling for budgets, etc, of course). 100 each or more would be better, of course -- notably, TFA had over 1500 movies in their analysis.
posted by jb at 10:57 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Resident Evil did, if you want an existence proof.

Without having even a pretense of numbers, I'd guess that TV (meaning high quality, long-form TV) does better on this. Orphan Black, Alias, and The Americans are all shows that Amazon and/or Netflix keep recommending to me that have violence and female leads, for example.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:40 PM on April 2


Even in the here and now, if you could get Gina Carano and Zoe Bell in a movie where they team up to hurt people for some reason, it would be a license to print money

I think you'd team Carano with Mila Jojovich or Jennifer Lawrence to really make a profit, but I agree that the cheerful female buddy violence movie is totally missing from the market. Any of them is a better actor than Dolf Lundgren or Stephen Segall, and they are a lot easier to look at -- why theaters aren't full of those action vehicles is beyond me.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:45 PM on April 2


Yeah, I'm really hoping that the current trend for female-driven TV series, and the now obvious expectation that TV shows will pass the Bechdel Test in spades, in every episode, trickles up into Hollywood.

One of the new TV series I'm most anticipating is a sci fi series starring Halle Berry as a female astronaut. If that can do well on TV, it's only a matter of time for all this "but no how can you make a movie without teh dewds" stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 12:17 AM on April 3


"Why the heck don't buddy action movies with female leads get made.

Resident Evil did, if you want an existence proof.
"

The Heat also got made, and had the advantage of actually being pretty great.
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 AM on April 3


I think you'd team Carano with Mila Jojovich or Jennifer Lawrence to really make a profit

Sure, but just imagine the pure insaneness of the stunts you could get Carano and Bell to do. I'd have said Michelle Yeoh but I think she's aged out of the physical intensity of that kind of stuntwork.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:03 AM on April 3


klangklangston-

two things.

HIPPA says I can't elaborate on the babyhead explosion.

The Heat was good? Its on HBOGo now. Maybe' I'll take a look.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:25 AM on April 3


I'd have said Michelle Yeoh but I think she's aged out of the physical intensity of that kind of stuntwork.

And yet they're still making Die Hard movies somehow.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:26 AM on April 3 [3 favorites]


I would like a test named after me even more than a movie...
posted by judson at 9:26 AM on April 3


And yet they're still making Die Hard movies somehow.

Yeah, but they make Die Hard movies by using CGI to insert Willis's face onto the stuntman, which is not how Michelle Yeoh earned her bread. And even back in the day they didn't really have Willis bouncing around like a monkey on speed the way that Yeoh did.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:55 AM on April 3


> One of the new TV series I'm most anticipating is a sci fi series starring Halle Berry as a female astronaut

Or to put it another, relevant, way, it's starring Halle Berry as an astronaut.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:23 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


Or to put it another, relevant, way, it's starring Halle Berry as an astronaut.

I think you meant "astronautrix."
posted by yoink at 2:16 PM on April 3


Astronautrix would only be correct if the male form was astronautor.
posted by KathrynT at 2:27 PM on April 3


Spacelady?
posted by Grangousier at 2:31 PM on April 3


Astronautess.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:36 PM on April 3


Astronautrix would only be correct if the male form was astronautor.

If 1960 Time Magazine is wrong I don't want to be right, little lady!
posted by yoink at 2:38 PM on April 3


An Astronautrix is the person who charges you to make your spacesuit hurt oh so good.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:52 PM on April 3


I'm so in love with Walt Hickey now.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:08 PM on April 3


Astronautrix would only be correct if the male form was astronautor.

If that's what we have to call the lady astronauts to get everyone to call the gents astronautors, then I'm all for it.
posted by straight at 9:25 AM on April 4


Or to put it another, relevant, way, it's starring Halle Berry as an astronaut.

Hm, you have a point, the fact that Halle Berry is mentioned does imply that the astronaut she's portraying will be female.

I mean, it would be kind of cool if she were playing Buzz Aldrin in something, but you're right, I don't think this is that TV show.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on April 4


Also, it's probably not helping on the sexism scale, but I love calling female aliens on Star Trek "spacebabes".

Space Lady is also nice, for if the alien woman in question is more of a classy broad type and less of a Space Ho. (You can't watch "Mudd's Women" without calling them Space Hos. It's a rule.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:29 AM on April 4


A DIY space dude would thus be an astronauteur.
posted by cortex at 9:33 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


A DIY space dude would thus be an astronauteur.

Do you think Riker ever gets done with a long day of chair straddlin' and beard strokin' and goes back to his quarters, cracks open a brewski, and cues up an episode of This Old Freighter? "Hi, I'm Kevin O'Conner and welcome to this old freighter. This week, we're working on a N-Class hulk that used to haul dilithium from the gamma quadrant but which our homeowners want to turn in to a mobile aquaculture lab...."
posted by Diablevert at 11:38 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


OMG I MUST MAKE THIS WEB SERIES
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on April 4


*Shines Flashlight Through The WHELK Signal*
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on April 4


Do you think Riker ever gets done with a long day of chair straddlin' and beard strokin' and goes back to his quarters, cracks open a brewski, and cues up an episode of This Old Freighter? "Hi, I'm Kevin O'Conner and welcome to this old freighter. This week, we're working on a N-Class hulk that used to haul dilithium from the gamma quadrant but which our homeowners want to turn in to a mobile aquaculture lab...."

No, I think Riker has other pastimes.
posted by kafziel at 12:14 PM on April 4


I read that link. It was pretty gross.
posted by Diablevert at 12:49 PM on April 4


Don't get me wrong, I like the "Riker = Total Horndog" thing as much as the next person, but frankly I like seeing him as a sort of nuanced character. Especially since he's one of the more nuanced characters in TNG if you look at the actual show as it really is, and there's nothing really about the show that implies that Riker is a creep, at all. Even the way his sexuality is depicted is pretty feminist and respectful of women. It seems strange to me that we've saddled him with all the baggage of the 21st century porn addicted dudebro.

Though there was that scene with the holographic harp players in that one episode, I'll grant.

The men of DS9 came off as much worse about women, in general, than Riker ever did.
posted by Sara C. at 1:01 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


The men of DS9 came off as much worse about women, in general, than Riker ever did.

Wholeheartedly agreed. I did a rewatch a couple of years ago, and remember being completely repulsed by one the "mirror universe" episodes where Sisko joyfully takes full advantage of the opportunities to sleep with mirror Dax and mirror Kira; I thought it was horrifically creepy and unethical for him to (a) take advantage of people who thought he was someone else and (b) wondered what it said about him as a commander and leader, that he would jump at the chance to sleep with (at least physically) carbon copies of his subordinates/colleagues.
posted by nubs at 9:35 AM on April 6


Sisko joyfully takes full advantage of the opportunities to sleep with mirror Dax and mirror Kira

Ummm... isn't it Mirror Sisko who does the sleeping around (and then dies)?
posted by sparklemotion at 6:38 AM on April 7


I think there was something at some point where Our Sisko has sex with Mirror Dax, or Sisko through some kind of time/dimension/multiverse situation ends up having sex with someone who looks identical to Our Jadzia. There was a bit of tension early on in the series with Sisko having this best friend mentor figure who was also a sexy spacebabe, and I don't think the show handled it in a particularly enlightened way.

One thing DS9 tends to ignore -- and which, as I said, TNG handled well enough with Riker -- is that all dudes aren't total horndogs who are ready to sleep with any woman they're attracted to, regardless of consequences. I seem to remember DS9 playing the Sisko/Jadzia alternate reality sex as not a great thing for Sisko, emotionally, but, you know, still. You could just... not do that.
posted by Sara C. at 9:44 AM on April 7


Yeah, maybe I'm misremembering it; there were various DS9 moments where the characters had doppelgangers or variants running around, or someone was under some type of mind altering thing, and opportunities presented themselves.. I am quite sure that is was Our Sisko though, and it was just really, really uncomfortable that he had the opportunity to do this, and just went ahead without hesitation.

Even on TNG, when things like that arose - and I think of the moments from The Naked Now - they left lingering effects; the relationship between Crusher and Picard was always fraught with difficulty, and Tasha and Data's relationship had ongoing implications. There was some acknowledgement of the difficulties that arose from in-crew fraternization, even with Riker.
posted by nubs at 9:55 AM on April 7


That was actually one of the main Riker story points. Almost anytime there's a Riker centered episode -- and every single time there's a Riker Gets Laid story -- there is the idea that Riker has a choice, and the choice he makes will have consequences.

Even in the first episode of the show, his major conflict is that he shows up at his new job and it turns out one of his direct reports is basically The One Who Got Away.

Riker rarely hooks up in the way that Kirk did, where he sees a sexy space lady and immediately nails her with no real consequences or second guessing about whether it's the right thing to do. Even in episodes where there's a pretty young thing he could totally screw without consequence, he's asking himself questions about power and agency.

Shit, Riker has sex with a fictional holodeck woman and it gets rehashed and hearkened back to and moralized to death over the course of the series.

Riker is basically Kirk in the era of AIDS and Take Back The Night.
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 AM on April 7


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