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Five Oscar-winning films that fail the Bechdel gender test
Think of some of the greatest films of all time. Now try to remember the conversations that women have in them. Can't remember? Don't worry, they probably just obsess over men.
It's hard being a movie. Somebody will inevitably dislike you—probably many people all at once.
But why do people disagree about whether a certain movie is good or bad? Surely there is a movie—just one movie of the millions that have been made—that everyone can agree is a really good movie, right?
Probably not. The fault in movies is also their power: the power of representation.
It can be difficult to make a strong claim that a film properly represents people of differing backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles without a firm definition of what the minimum requirements are. Film is art, so one's subjective experience of them also creates their meaning.
There is, however, one test that offers us some degree of objectivity.
The Bechdel test is a test of gender inequality in media. Devised by Alison Bechdel, it is a three-part check of a film. A film passes if it can check off all three points. They are:
1. It has to have at least two named women in it.
2. Who have a conversation.
3. About something other than a man.
While the test seems simple, you may be surprised at some of the greatest films to fail the test. Here are five Oscar-winning films that fail, and oh how they fail.
The original trilogy features only three women who never speak to one another. The first film, which won six Oscars in 1978, has only two, Princess Leia and Aunt Beru, and they are never shown on screen together.
A still from the film depicting Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker during a live rendition of the score. (Getty Images)
One of the most quoted films of all time, Casablanca unexpectedly won Best Picture at the 1944 Academy Awards. The film is iconic and rightly considered a classic. The film has several female characters; with Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund being a particularly complex and well-written one. Despite this great writing, none of the female cast members can be seen speaking to one another.
Humphrey Bogart (1899 - 1957) and Ingrid Bergman (1915 - 1982) star in the Warner Brothers film 'Casablanca', 1942. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Kramer vs. Kramer
The story of a divorce, this film features a very strong pair of performances from Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Despite winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep, the film does not pass the test. It does feature three female characters, and two of them even talk to one another. However, they discuss a man. This excellent film also won Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.
Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar for the film. (Getty Images)
The original Godfather film won three Oscars in 1972, including best picture. Regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, it still manages to fail the test despite having some strong female cast members. There is a single scene (the last one) where two women discuss two men.
Marlon Brando pulling the cheeks of an unidentified man in a scene from the film 'The Godfather', 1972. (Paramount/Getty Images)
The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of Rings films won 17 Academy awards between the three of them, with the final film winning 11. While the saga features very strong characters in Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel, they never speak to another woman and are depicted as living in different parts of Middle Earth.
Some of the Oscars won by the series upon their arrival in New Zealand. (Getty Images)
Here are the other nominees it the category of Bechdel failure
Some films not listed, such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, may pass on dubious definitions of the word “conversation”. Some films are considered to fail the test because the conversations female characters do have concern themes of marriage, dating, or otherwise directly invoke a male figure.
The number of films that pass or fail in a given year can fluctuate wildly, as you can see on this list. This year, a majority of the nominees for best picture pass the test, a welcome change from previous years.
The test does have problems. It was pointed out in another article concerning the test that two women discussing shoes would make a film pass the test, even though they could be stereotypical characters with no depth at all. It is rather vague and some excellent films, such as Grave of the Fireflies, fail because a character is just not given a proper name. However, the test is designed to measure involvement and representation and, in that regard, it succeeds.
This also isn’t to say that a film that fails the test is a bad one. The Godfather is one of the greatest films of all time and it fails the test. Similarly, the epic film Lawrence of Arabia fails utterly as it doesn’t have a single female character. As it is a film about a gay man in the first world war, it would be strange if it tried to include too many female cast members.
The Bechdel test is a measure of equality in films. While it does have issues, it can show us how some of the greatest films of all time don’t manage to have female characters act independently of the men around them. While some have called for using the test to rate films for sexism, others have called for a new test entirely to account for more than just conversations. The test remains an interesting starting point for conversations about representation, women in film, and what kinds of progress, if any, we have made.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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