A reader comments on the video we used for this post on Hollywood’s portrayal of female relationships:
As I think I’ve written to you before, the Bechdel Test is total and complete bullshit. I’m a Hollywood screenwriter, so let me drop a little knowledge on this one. The only way a film is going to pass the Bechdel Test is if the protagonist is female, or it’s an ensemble cast with a bunch of different storylines. Anything else is bad screenwriting. Here’s why: Movies do not suffer digressions well. To be good, they have to stay on their main storyline. This is one of the structural realities that separates them from novels.
That means, in a non-ensemble movie, If two characters are talking, and neither of them is the protagonist, then those two characters have to be talking about the protagonist. If you have a scene where two non-protagonist characters are talking about something unrelated to the protagonist (and thus, to the main storyline), any writer or executive worth her salt is going to cut that scene. It’ll drag the entire movie down and make people reach for their popcorn. Thus, if the protagonist is a man, then if he’s not on screen, any characters who are on screen are going to be talking about him. It’s just good writing.
Do I wish there were more movies with a strong female protagonist? Hell yeah, I do. I’m actually returning to writing one as soon as I finish this email. But the Bechdel Test is utter hooey. It’s using a metric that fails to understand the basic principles of the thing it’s purporting to measure.