The good news? There's definitely room to improve.
Of the many ways to measure diversity in film, one of the most informative originated as a joke in a comic. The Bechdel Test, as it's come to be known, originated in the 1985 comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For," written by Alison Bechdel, the test's namesake.
For a film to pass the Bechdel Test, it has to meet three criteria:
There have been 16 Bechdel-passing films that have grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide.
Last year, FiveThirtyEight took a look at the financial implications of films passing the Bechdel Test. Was it possible that films that failed the test simply outperformed those that passed? Was the reason for this lack of diversity economic? No. In fact, FiveThirtyEight found that dollar for dollar, Bechdel-passing films outperformed those that didn't.
Data-sharing site Silk analyzed 1,500 films released between 2010 and 2014 using the Bechdel Test criteria. Silk then incorporated data from bechdeltest.com and an Annenburg School study for reference and historical purposes.
In 2014, just 55.4% of all films passed the Bechdel Test. This is down from 2013's 67.5% and 2012's 66.4%.
This interactive chart visualizes Silk's data by year and Bechdel status:
To use, hover your mouse over the data to see it broken down by year.
Still, just because a movie meets the Bechdel Test criteria doesn't necessarily mean that it's some sort of feminist powerhouse.
Take "Cinderella," for example.
Despite the plot of the "Cinderella" story centering almost entirely around the idea that the only way for women to find success and happiness is to marry a rich, charming prince, nearly every movie adaptation has passed the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Will the 2015 adaptation pass the test? Likely! Still, it's not exactly the next coming of "Our Bodies, Our Selves," and that's OK!
Even some films with strong female characters fail the Bechdel Test, further illustrating its imperfection as a measurement of feminist credibility.
For instance, the original "Star Wars" trilogy fails the Bechdel Test, even with badass, independent Princess Leia. The same goes for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2," which fails despite the presence of Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley, Professor McGonagall, and Bellatrix Lestrange, all of whom are richly developed characters.
Just think of how much greater these awesome female characters could have been had they been given the same number of conversation topics and opportunities to talk with each other about things other than members of the opposite sex as their male counterparts were.
Breaking down female stereotypes in media will take more than meeting the bare minimum Bechdel Test criteria.
So long as the film industry continues to be made up primarily of white men, diversity will remain in short supply.
- In TV, less than 15% of directors are women.
- In film, men make up nearly three-quarters of leading roles and write nearly 9 out of 10 scripts.
- In the 87 years the award has been given out, only one woman has won the Academy Award for Best Directing.
Some have proposed ways to improve upon the Bechdel Test, namely the Mako Mori and Sexy Lamp Tests.
The Mako Mori Test came from Tumblr user Chaila and is based off of a character from the movie "Pacific Rim."
The rules of the Mako Mori Test are nearly as simple as those of the Bechdel Test.
The rules of the Sexy Lamp Test, created by Kelly Sue DeConnick, are even more simple.
These tests are imperfect but excellent starting points for conversations about why the film (or any) industry is the way it is.
Questioning who we are, looking at implicit bias, and working to see the world from fresh perspectives is great advice for anyone in any field. Questioning and challenging the status quo — which in this case, means asking why the entertainment industry is so very white and so very male — is the first step toward personal growth and innovation.