Hot Topics: ‘The Social Network’ - Round Two, and the Bechdel Test.

So I saw The Social Network again, this time with the new found perspective gained from reader comments and emails from my first viewing of the film. I have to say that you guys are incredibly observant, and I stand corrected in my beliefs. I see Aaron Sorkin’s point as to being true to the moment, and showing the uglier side of men and women in that sphere, at that time. My objections to the portrayal of women in the film are changed, and I love the film all the more, but my viewpoint on the portrayal of women in film overall remains steadfast.

The screenplay I am writing now, plus the treatment of Paul Pope’s graphic novel and Lilith all are woman-centric stories and films, and I always make sure I am staying true to the medium by running my stories through the famous Bechdel Test. If you’re not familiar with the test, it was conceived by writer / cartoonist Alison Bechdel (who did the shatteringly brilliant book Fun Home) as a way to determine if a story / film was really being told in fairness to women. The four rules of the test are simple:

1) There must be at least two women in the story.

2) Those two women must have names.

3) The women must talk to each other.

4) The conversation must be about something other than a man.

Seems simple enough, but I was shocked to find out how many movies failed the test. And it’s not required that every movie pass the test (The Social Network fails it miserably, but as I now know, that’s the point of the movie) and if the movie doesn’t pass the test it doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Not at all. (There Will Be Blood fails it completely, but if you substitute men for the role of women in the Bechdel Test, then There Will Be Blood is a full on bromance.)

Well done, Brother Plainview.

But I do think the Bechdel Test is a subtle step towards equality in media, and I do think filmmakers and writers should be mindful of it. Stories needn’t be altered to fit it, but if someone is consciously making a film with purportedly “strong, independent” women characters, then I think the Bechdel Test must be applied. Lilith, thankfully, passes the test, albeit just barely.

My wife jokes with me that I write films for women like a desperate nerd trying too hard to get laid (that’s why I love my wife so - her refreshingly crushing honesty), and I’m unapologetic in my passion for women and my desire to portray them on screen. I do admire women, but not blindly so, or for the sake of political correctness. I’m fascinated by women in the same way that James Cameron is, as he’s consistently focused his stories on the inherent power of women - socially, biologically, sexually and politically. Aliens passes the Bechdel Test, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is a character that I love, a real flesh-and-blood woman on film. I admire Ripley as much as I detest a woman like Ann Coulter (hey - Alien 5: Ripley vs. Coulter - I’d buy that ticket), but as much as I hate Coulter, I’m fascinated by her and the likes of her (Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley, Michele Malkin, etc.). These women are using their femininity as a weapon, and while I detest everything they stand for, it makes for a fascinating study of identity, and the idea that these women understand full and well as to how their male counterparts and voters perceive them. I would do a Bob Roberts, Wag the Dog or a Bulworth with a Palin / Coulter-esque woman at the center of it in a heartbeat.

In fact I’ll jot that idea down right now.