Good Female Representation, Passed Bechdel
Dark Shadows (source)
It gives me hope when the disc menu pictures more women than men—not that Dark Shadows has ever disappointed me. All eight-ish main characters are developed as their own people and as members as a greater working body: the Collins family. This family has its honor restored by their vampiric ancestor, Barnabus, for whom family is the greatest wealth. For him, everyone receives loyalty and respect until they lose it.
So. Elizabeth is the matriarch, and she gets final say. Barnabus doesn’t dispute that; he doesn’t need to be in charge to be devoted. Julia Hoffman is a doctor, which is ridiculous for someone from three hundred years ago. Still, he doesn’t challenge her; he employs her. The film is your essential fish out of water story, but a key part of Barnabus’s character insists that people are more important than his expectations of them, male or female. In fact, the only time that Barnabus cracks is when he finds that two family members have placed their own self-interest over their familial duties. Without hesitation, he kicks them out, because his family members deserve better.
Part of the film’s intrigue comes from a character we wouldn’t expect to respect everyone, but does. Another part is the time period of change represented in the story. Angie Bouchard is the same woman Barnabus fought against three hundred years ago, but the story ends differently because of change. What’s more, characters explore the role of women as a contemporary issue of the 70’s. Elizabeth and Angie clash in a man’s business world. Victoria is asked during her job interview whether the sexes should be equal. Dr. Hoffman discusses the harm of women labeling women. They ask the questions that we still need to answer today.
And if you’re wondering why I didn’t keep track of how many times women talk to each other, it’s because I wanted to watch the movie. Elizabeth, Dr. Hoffman, Carolyn, Angie, and Victoria talk plenty. End of story.
I love all the characters and there’s an inherent demand for respect for all people. Plus, questions. Representation yes.
Princess Anneliese must marry to save her country from bankruptcy; Erika is the indentured servant to a cruel, unfair mistress. But despite their very different backgrounds, the two girls become friends, and in Anneliese’s time of need, Erika is there to take her place until further notice. In this world, women have their own power—the queen rules her country alone, Madame Carpe (however much of a butt she may be) is a business owner, and Anneliese and Erika try to find their way to leave the path laid before them and find their own place in the world. And they do.
Anneliese is expected to be a well-behaved, attentive princess when she would rather study science. Though she’s willing to make the sacrifice to help her people, in the end she finds a new source of income for her country through her interest in geology. Both she and her subjects are released from commitments they didn’t want to make. However, even though Anneliese loves science, she also admires Erika’s talent for singing, too. This leads to a great friendship that ends up saving the kingdom, which is in itself pretty amazing, but also a friendship of service—Anneliese helps release Erika from indentured slavery and enables her to follow her dream of singing professionally. Over the course of the movie, Erika makes friends and falls in love, but once she has her freedom, she puts them all on hold for herself. She follows her dream. She makes money singing. And it is never once a source of conflict—her love interest and her friends don’t beg her to stay for their sake. Instead, Erika just goes, and when she decides to pursue a different dream, she returns home to be with the people she loves. Sure, there’s a double wedding at the end, but the movie’s real focus is on balancing duties and dreams without compromise. And friendship. Never forget friendship.
Again, I didn’t keep track of the conversations. But really, they’re best friends talking about their life’s dreams. Could you even worry?
Female friendship, freedom, and following your dreams. Representation yes.
I was planning on discussing The Incredibles over Princess and the Pauper, but I decided on the latter because I wanted to discuss a film where I liked the female representation but their immediate tie to the other main characters wasn’t through family. Family is, of course, awesome, but so are female friendships, so I thought I’d balance my portfolio like that.
One last note: these movies go above and beyond Bechdel test requirements, but that doesn’t mean these movies are perfect. Unlike previously discussed films, there are virtually no people of color, much less women of color, much less other female experiences (i.e. LGBT+ representation, etc.), much less something else I’ve probably forgotten. This doesn’t make them bad movies—as Alexa commented earlier, not all movies can represent everybody—but it is, as always, something to think about.
Well, that’s a wrap! Thanks for tuning in to Testing the Bechdel test, and here’s to all the awesome female characters out there, whatever movie they may be in.