Netflix and the Bechdel Test


Colin Stokes discovered a pertinent issue in the movies of today while re-watching some of his old favorites with his two young children.  One of the movies was The Wizard of Oz–the other, Star Wars.  Stokes explored the differences of these two classics in a Ted Talks he did in November 2012.

In The Wizard of Oz, “all of the most heroic and wise and even villainous characters are female”, Stokes points out.  Star Wars (on the other hand) has only two female characters, Princess Leia and Aunt Beru.  The main character in Star WarsLuke Skywalker, joins an army to help overthrow the government and save the universe.  Dorothy’s character in The Wizard of Oz makes friends and becomes a leader among the friends she makes.


Stokes would rather raise his kids in the land of Oz instead of “the world of dudes fighting”.  He asks why there is so much fighting in the “movies we have for our kids and so little yellow brick road?”

The movies of today are “doing  a phenomenal job of teaching girls how to defend against the patriarchy, but they are not necessarily showing boys how they’re supposed to defend against the patriarchy.  There are no models for them,” Stokes admits.  He sites Hermione of the Harry Potter movies, Katniss of the Hunger Games, as well as Pixar’s Brave which exemplify great role models for young women.  However, none of these movies pass the Bechdel Test.


Allison Bechdel, a comic book artist, developed the Bechdel Test to assess the movies she watched.  The test only requires three questions:

1. Is there more than one female character?  2. Do these characters talk to each other?  3. Do they talk about anything other than the guy they both like?

Stokes drew attention to two statistics in his talk.  The first was that only 11 of the top 100 movies in 2011 had female protagonists.  The second statistic was that one out of five women in America claim to have been sexually assaulted at some point in their life.  Stokes doesn’t blame the movies our kids watch for this statistic, but calls into question what our young boys are learning from male-dominated movies.

“We have got to show our sons a new definition of manhood,” Stokes says.  “We really have to show them and model for them how a real man is someone who trusts his sisters, and respects them, and wants to be on their team.”  A real man stands up to the bad guys who want to abuse women.

Stokes believes we can accomplish this definition of manhood through the Netflix que.  He urges parents to “look out for those movies that pass the Bechdel Test” and “nudge our sons to identify with those heroins”.  The boys need to learn to pull for the girl in the movies, because they will need to know how to pull for the girls in real life.  They will need to be comfortable with joining their team, rather than fighting alone.


*All images obtained from google images

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