Gender-based Bechdel test judges “Harry Potter,” other films on its female characters

Movie theaters in Sweden have a new, unique approach to evaluate some of society’s favorite films. Instead of rating films on the usual violence, profanity, or nudity, the Bechdel test, coined in 1985 by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, takes on a completely different metric – gender equality.

Many of today’s popular films feature female characters who show strength in a number of ways: Katniss Everdeen shows a survivor’s spirit and political charisma in The Hunger Games, Princess Leia brings valuable leadership and tactical war strategy to Star Wars, and our own Hermione Granger exhibits intellectual supremacy and fierce determination in Harry Potter.

Even so, by the Bechdel test’s standards, most of these films fail to achieve an “A” rating, which requires that two named female characters have a conversation  “about something other than a man.”

“The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm.

Tejle says that while films regularly feature memorable female characters, the audience often sees “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them.” But through the Bechdel Test, Tejle says, “the goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens.”

Pause for a moment and think through those aforementioned movies. While there are perhaps examples of female characters conversing on topics other than men in the source material, such as the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, the film adaptations come up short in a number of ways. The consideration is certainly eye-opening.

Scandinavian TV station Viasat Film plans to show a day of programming that only includes those films that pass the test, such as The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady, and Savages.

From an objective standpoint, the Bechdel test could be a game-changer for the film industry, providing an evaluative tool for marking gender bias and the portrayal of women on screen. It also raises questions about the book-to-film adaptation process, concerning which scenes, conversations, and interactions get left out because a screenwriter may judge them to be less necessary.

The implementation of the test has already inspired a heated debate, bringing timeless films and gender studies into a single, focused arena. We want to know what you, as Harry Potter and general entertainment fans, think of the Bechdel test and its implications.

Do you think it is a useful test? Is it correct to say only one Potter film would receive an “A” rating? To which film might they be referring? What might this mean for future film adaptations?

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