(Remember: to pass the test, a movie must have two [named] women, who talk, about something other than a man.)
Dubiously Satisfactory Female Portrayal,
Sarah’s story revolves around correcting a big mistake—delivering her baby brother, Toby, into the hands of Jareth, the Goblin King—by traveling through a labyrinth. Labyrinth passes the test due to a couple conversations: first, with her stepmother about dating and babysitting, and second, when the Junk Lady (yes, that’s her name) tries to deter her from her quest with toys. However, both conversations’ validity are disputed.
Now, it’s kind of obvious that this movie isn’t much into girl power. Sarah’s greatest allies are all male puppets and the women she runs into are often her obstacles—beginning with her stepmother. Sarah and her stepmom don’t get along, and what’s more, most of their conversation is about boyfriends and Toby. Even if Toby is not yet a man, the conversation is male-centric. But why should the Junk Lady’s words be disputed if they are talking about toys, not people? Well, because within the movie’s greater context, Labyrinth is a romance.
It sounds creepy because David Bowie was almost forty when this came out, but it’s true. The reason Jareth takes Toby in the first place is because he is in love with Sarah (age 15). In fact, the entire movie is set up almost like a love triangle—deep down, Sarah loves both Jareth and Toby, and on her journey she must decide which one to choose. Jareth tries to keep her from choosing Toby, and so the Junk Lady deterring Sarah is not just about toys, but about boys. Even the stepmother’s conversation hints at this—it lays out Sarah’s options of romantic or fraternal love. I think this movie passes the Bechdel test because, at least in language, the Junk Lady just talks about toys, but I don’t think Labyrinth portrays women well, either. Sarah’s struggle is about her relationship to males… and I think most women are a whole lot more.
A small scale pass, but grand scale creepy. Representation… um, no.
Big Hero 6 (source)Big Hero 6 excites us because Aunt Cass, Honey Lemon, and Gogo are awesome. Aunt Cass is a cat lady raising two nephews, but she also runs her own business. Honey Lemon and Gogo are superheroes, of course, but they’re also young women thriving in a STEM field, and racially diverse to boot. BH6 has good characters to start with, but passes with dispute because the only female conversation is in the heat of battle. Gogo is like “Get the mask!” and Honey is like “Right behind you!” and though it is a loose interpretation of a conversation, apparently it counts. Also, sometimes women converse onscreen, but not audibly.
Yeah… Not a lot of female bonding in this movie. The girl characters just don’t interact that much—Gogo and Honey matter to Todashi and Hiro as friends and Mr. Kabuki Mask as enemies… but writers didn’t go out of their way to characterize them as friends or sisters-in-arms. It’s a good movie without that, but still. A cloth company felt comfortable removing Honey and Gogo from a BH6 print because boys think girls are icky. The girls’ significance was limited to the screen. And no, it wasn’t the movie people themselves, but reputation comes from many places. It’s worth remembering.
I like the characters, but the test is seriously lax. Representation okay.
The Bechdel test ignores the context of Labyrinth’s plot. In demonstrates how little women have to say to one another in BH6. Also, just because girls exist in a fictional world doesn’t mean that they get the attention they deserve. If these movies tell us anything, it’s that the Bechdel test isn’t an accomplishment. It’s just something that tells us that two women talked, and that for the most part, lots of women get the short end of the stick in film.