Passing the Bechdel Test - An Interview with the Bitch Pack

1) Can you briefly give us some background info: who you are, how you found each other, and where you studied film?We are three women who started a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting together. Due to our dissatisfaction with our academic program, including the promotion of men over women by certain members of our department and the general gender bias towards women in entertainment, we got to talking. This talking became action.We understand each other’s writing styles and understand that not every writer needs to follow only academically prescribed writing structures.We’ll decline to state where we go to school for now, but we can say we have some people who have been very kind to us in our film education whether this be inside or outside of the classroom. They are Carole Dean, Bob Engels, Ari Posner, Dan Vining, Terry George and Susan Cartsonis who have been instrumental in talking with us and guiding us in our missions.2) How did you decide to form the Pack?Due to the success of the very guy-centric Hangover movies, and the pop culture phenomenon of men traveling in “wolf-packs”, we decided that being a “bitch-pack” would be appropriate. 

 There are a lot of pitfalls in education and in the working world and bitches are protective of one other and have each other’s backs. Why should the guys have all the fun? Bitches are loyal, assertive women who don’t settle for second best and aren’t afraid to speak up.3) What inspired you to put the Bechdel Theory to the test? And can you explain that concept to our readers?Every year around awards season in Hollywood, numerous reports come out about the lack of women directors and screenwriters being nominated and awarded. There is a plethora of studies done, ranting in blogs, etc.

This year, Feminist Frequency made another video about how only two of the best picture nominations at The Academy Awards truly passed The Bechdel Test.There are only three simple rules for a film:1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it2. Who talk to each other3. About something besides a manhttp://bechdeltest.com/ is a great resource and area for discourse.We decided there can be a solution----to identify screenplays that do pass the test with flying colors and highlights normal interactions with women. It’s not realistic to think that women only come together to talk about men in everyday life. We talk about an array of things. Entertainment would be more relatable to its audience if this were reflected on the screen. Susan Cartsonis wrote a magnificent piece called “Note to Studios, Stop Trying to Get The Boys Back and Chase Women” 

She’s right —- look at John Carter and its financial woes.We thought instead of stewing in after the fact reporting and complaining, something could be done. This is why we came up with The Bitch List.We were inspired by The Black List started by Franklin Leonard and The Blood List started by Kailey Marsh. We’re honored we’re meeting with these other promoters of good screenwriting.4) I'd read that you had tested out the Oscar nominees for 2012 and found most failed this test. Can you tell me about the ones that actually passed?Like on http://bechdeltest.com/, passing is arguable. The Help and The Descendants passed. The screenplay that won was Midnight in Paris. One could say it “passes”, but the only conversation that passes it is when Inez and her mother talk about 18,000 dollar chairs.We’re looking for “passi[img_assist|nid=199|title=The Descendants Passes the Bechdel Test with Talks of Grieving between Female Characters|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=300]ng” screenplays where women discuss more important aspects of life than just shopping.

5) Did those Oscar-nominated films that did pass have some common threads or themes?Seems like they sure did. They featured females commiserating and being there for each other through difficult times, whether that be fighting oppression and using their voices (The Help) or getting through the death of a parent (The Descendants).6) Why do you think that women don't interact on film or, when they do, that it's so often talking about men instead of any other topic?It appears, due to the grim numbers of female written screenplays that get produced, even in genres like Romantic Comedy that the majority of scripts turned films we see are written by men who do not know exactly how women interact with one another. That or these male writers are egotistical enough to think women only talk about men. That being said, we fully support male writers creating material that passes The Bechdel Test and that makes it onto The Bitch List. We are not here to only promote female writers, but anyone who can help revolutionize film by being aware that viewers want to see more from women on screen. The Bitch List wants to show there are ways to make a #BetterHollywood with all sexes involved. This hash tag came from Dr. Eleanor Morrison, with whom we have partnered through Pop Change for The Bitch List. She is a graduate of The USC Annenberg School of Communication. Amy Granados, a PhD student there, has also been very instrumental in The Bitch List project. They are both researchers for The Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. Please see: http://www.popchange.net/bitch-list.

This ensures our proper accounting and overseeing of data.This dearth of more meaningful female on female dialogue is also due to educators at film schools being part of the problem. Jennifer Kesler wrote a piece called “Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not To Pass The Bechdel Test”.We have found this true in our experience as well. One of our male classmates wrote a screenplay where there is only one woman. In his story, this woman only talked to men for four years. This would never happen in real life. We would talk to our mothers, sisters, female friends for help and advice sometime in four years.When this was brought up in class, this student and the other males said things to the effect of “Fine, there can be another female character — how about a shop girl? How about a female assistant who is annoying”— that is all they came up with.A professor asked if we had a screenplay with strong female characters if we would change them to male ones if requested by an executive. One of our male classmates without hesitation said “Hell yes”.It’s these attitudes that prevent positive change. Film is the most wide spread medium in the world and can change society’s attitudes about a myriad of topics. Film definitely has effects on our world at large.The screenwriter is where all decision making first takes place. If we can be more conscious of the words and situations we create in our scripts, all kinds of social evolution can come from this.

[img_assist|nid=200|title=The Help also Passes the Test with Talk of Discrimination and Child Rearing|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=221]7) In general, do you think the trend for films is improving, getting worse, or maintaining? Do you see more films passing the Bechdel this year?So far, no, but we still have the rest of the year to find out. Perhaps we should delve more into film release schedules for the year and get back to you.8) What about people of color? Are there any thoughts about looking at their dialogue as well since, sometimes, they tend to often talk about the white people in their lives over other topics? (The Help comes to mind.)In The Help, there were parts where Viola Davis’ character and Octavia Spencer’s character discuss things like raising their own children or getting out of an abusive marriage.

It is true in television and film that there are African American supporting characters who do only seem to have Caucasian friends on whom they focus.

Interestingly enough, Christian Coleman wrote a fantastic piece in January of this year about “The Bechdel Test for Black People”.9) Is there a genre where women are better treated in general? A place we can "hide out" if you will until things improve?There does not appear to be one. Rom com, action, sci-fi, horror all suffer the lack of Bechdel Test passing material, especially films that makes it to the mainstream.We shouldn’t hide; we should be out there campaigning on the front lines and telling people what’s wrong with the system(s) and status quo and how we’re voting with our pocketbooks.

 This has been successful in terms of social media and the work of @RepresentPledge and others. Women have all this power and are using it more and more in this current day and age.Look at the 140+ advertisers who left The Rush Limbaugh Show — that is the collective power of women speaking out (mostly online).[img_assist|nid=201|title=Midnight in Paris (Best 2012 Original Screenplay) Technically Passes but with a Chair Shopping Conversation|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=176]10) What can people who want to help your mission do to support you?

Thank you very much for this question.We need as much help as we can about spreading the word about The Bitch List project and getting entertainment industry participants who read screenplays for a living to sign up at Dr. Morrison’s Pop Change site: http://www.popchange.net/bitch-list . Other than that, we are available for further press coverage to get the message out about changing women’s representation on screen, starting with the written word on the page. We were the topic of a Bust Magazine post and have been approached by other publications.We can always use more advisers and advocates who can speak with other people on our behalf. We are also happy to make time to sit down and talk with people in person.We’re also hoping to create or be on panels at film festivals to discuss The Bitch List and what impacts we want to make with it. We’ve been very fortunate to get male and female supporters of our work and wish for more who like the ones we already have.

Check out the Bitch Pack on Facebook or take the Bitch List Pledge!

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