The Bechdel Test was developed by Alison Bechdel in 1985 as a way to gauge female presence in movies. This test isn't used to measure feminist content, just if women are in the movie or not.
There are three parts to the Bechdel Test.
Sounds simple, right? You would be surprised at how many movies fail. Marvel is ahead of the curve and there are many films in the franchise that pass. Not all of them pass with a clean 3 out of 3, but it is worth noting the rating gets progressively stronger with more recent films.
Here's a list of ten movies that pass the test, with a few honorable mentions.
Iron Man 2 introduced Black Widow to the Avengers team. The addition of Natalie Rushman to the cast gave Pepper another female character to interact with and the result was a pass on the Bechdel test. The two of them have discussions about work generally or Stark Industries specifically, but not always about Tony himself.
In Iron Man 3 we lose Natalie but the addition of Maya to the cast as another career professional fills the gap. Pepper and Maya have a lengthy conversation that does involve Tony and the Mandarin along with several other plot points.
It's the personal friendship and working relationship of Jane and her assistant Darcy that give both these movies a pass.
In Thor, Jane and Darcy discuss cosmic anomalies, SHIELD taking Darcy's iPod and Jane's notebooks, and a few other random subjects. In Thor, the Dark World we still have these work and study related discussions between Darcy and Jane. Other female characters like Freya and Sif also have short verbal exchanges with Jane.
Gamora and sister Nebula push these film into Bechdel-test-pass territory. In the first film, they discuss their mission and trade some rather vicious barbs. It's not exactly cordial but it does count as a conversation.
The second film has more interaction between the sisters, plus we have the addition of the Sovereign Ayesha and Mantis. In fact, it's the initial interaction between Gamora and the High Priestess that passes this film. Gamora and Nebula have similar discussions about their background and childhood.
It's nice to have Wanda Romanoff as an Avenger and Agent Hill backing up Nick Fury. Now Black Widow has other girls to talk to and at least one of the flagship films of the Marvel film franchise can pass the Bechdel test!
Not so fast. Considering how many women there are n this film, it's amazing that they have so little to say to each other. Proxima Midnight is never named in the film, so anything Natasha or Wanda say to her is ruled out.
Other interactions are up for debate. Does the conversation in Shuri's lab count? Is it about the stone or is it about Vision? And is Vision even a man?
Gamora and Nebula speak in a flashback about hiding one of the infinity stones. Is this a conversation about the stone, or is it about Thanos?
There's an exchange between Gamora and her mother while Thanos is attacking. A scene most people don't even remember. Is this about the attack or Thanos? Although she is never named, Gamora does call her "Mother" and what else would a child call her mother?
The movie passes but by a slim margin. And we really had to pick it apart, which also says something.
Several female characters playing major roles give this movie a pass, and they have some compelling conversations. Kania teases Okoye about her wig, Sophia chides Nakia on her tendency to make trouble and Shuri tells Nakia to put on some armor.
The conversation that's usually debated is the one that Nakia and Okoye have about how to deal with Killmonger. Is this a conversation about nationalism and loyalty or are the women concerned with T'Challa and his usurper, both men?
Okoye, Wakanda's greatest warrior, explains it to us herself, "I am loyal to that throne, no matter who sits upon it." Gender is a moot point.
This film not only passes with flying colors but does so in some really non-conventional ways.
The opening scene passes the movie immediately with Hope and her mother, Janet, having a conversation about a business trip. But wait, that's not all! The scene where Janet speaks through Scott also counts, as she's using him as a telephone of sorts. She and Janet converse about the upcoming challenges the face in the Quantum Realm. Even though Scott is speaking, it is Janet.
There's a third conversation that gives this movie even more Bechdel cred. There is a final conversation between Eva, one of Marvel's most sophisticated villains, and Janet. It's short but it counts.
There's an argument that claims the Bechdel Test is unfair because all characters in the film have to talk about the main character, don't they? So how come two women can't talk about a male main character and still pass the test?
This is funny and sad in that it overlooks a major problem. Why is the main character always male?
Captain Marvel passes the test easily. The main character is female, who has a female best friend, who in turn has a daughter. Then there's the character of Mar-Vell, yet another woman. They have a lot to talk about, such as how to show "these boys" how to fly and the Skrull invasion, just to name a few examples.
The popularity of the Bechdel Test has inspired other tests to measure diversity in films. Using it can be part of a larger, serious study or just a way to make conversation at a party.
There are several other Marvel movies on the horizon, starting with Infinity War: Endgame in just a few weeks. Now that Hollywood can admit that main characters can be female, it might be time to raise the Bechdel bar for media and entertainment everywhere.