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The Bechdel-Wallace Test is created by Alison Bechdel from her comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985. The test is an assessment of gender bias in media by asking three simple questions of a film:
To determine whether a film pass or fail the test, it is important to closely consider what they’re watching, how it’s crafted, and what is its message.
Many films and plays have featured women in prominent roles, but just because they appear on-screen does not necessarily mean that they are active and present characters and/or if their stories are significant. The film “Game Night” is an example of having a prominent protagonist female character and still failed the Bechdel-Wallace Test.
“Game Night” is a 2018 American comedy film directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, etc.
The film follows a group of friends and their tradition game nights turning into a real-life murder/kidnapper story. Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) is the most competitive married couple that usually win every single game night. However, their marriage is not as smooth as their winning streak when Max’s stress surrounding his feelings of inadequacy and jealousy towards his successful and attractive brother, Brooks, affects the couple’s ability to have a child.
When Brooks offer to host the next game night at his house with the prize of a Corvette Stingray, nobody even realizes that Brooks’ full-blown murder mystery is actually very real. Max and Annie along with their friends Michelle, Kevin, Ryan, and Sarah begin to solve the mystery using the clues and experience all these dangerous yet humorous events to eventually help Brooks escapes from the dangerous gangsters.
The film passes the first question of the Bechdel Test with at least two female characters were given a name in the movie, Annie – the main female character, Michelle – Annie’s longtime friend, Sarah – Ryan’s guest to the game night, Glenda, Dr. Chin, etc. The film also passes the second question of the test about whether or not there is a conversation between two female characters. Annie has several conversations with other female characters such as Dr. Chin, her friend Michelle, and multiple of female guests as Ryan’s plus-one.
However, the film fails the last question of the Bechdel-Wallace test. All conversations between female characters in the film are about man or centered around man. For example, Annie’s conversation with Dr. Chin in the beginning of the film is about her husband’s testosterone issues, and then the conversation shifts its focus to Brooks, Max’s brother, and his successful career and attractiveness that raised an interest in Dr. Chin. So even though there is a conversation between female characters, their conversation is directly related to or about man. There are several scenes in the film where a female character communicates with other female character while playing charades game such as guessing an act or answering a trivia question. However, this conversation is made in a social setting while playing game, so it is not a complete and meaningful conversation that contributed to the development of the film. Another occasion of interaction between two female characters is when Sarah and Ryan go to Murder We Wrote to find the final clue. Glenda, the owner of the company, is asleep in the chair with her deadly makeup. Sarah and Glenda exchange lines about the makeup such as “You scared the ** out of us”. Some people might argue that this conversation should pass the test because it’s not about man. However, in my opinion, Sarah referring “us” as Ryan and herself. They also discuss the murder mystery business as well as how much money Glenda wants to give them the final clue of Brook’s kidnapper story. In my interpretation, both conversations are directly or indirectly related to a man in some way or another. It is up to technicality and how you interpret the situation whether this conversation actually passes the test. This issue also leads to the argument about the inconsistency of Bechdel-Wallace test. If a conversation that related to someone, that happened to be a male, to support the flow and development of the story, should that conversation considered as failing the test?
Although the Bechdel-Wallace test is useful, it is not enough to measure the feminism of a film or play. As you go through the test, it is important to make an assessment of your own that failing or passing the test does not necessarily mean that the film is a feminist or a good film. It demonstrated the gender bias in media, and how women’s complex and well-rounded aspects of life are underrepresented or even non-existent in the film industry.
Another aspect of “Game Night” that is related to the Women and Gender’s Studies in media and the film industry is the idea of Male Gaze and the beauty idea. Male Gaze, developed by Lauren Mulvey, is a concept of looking and viewing is from the perspective of ideal heterosexual male viewer which can result in the objectification of women. Ryan, the womanizing dimwitted friend, is a representation of the ideal of Male Gaze. All of Ryan’s girlfriends have similar features of young and beautiful white model with blonde hair and a stereotype of being a dumb and submissive blonde. Except for Sarah, she was a little older and a lot smarter than Ryan’s previous flings. And yet, Ryan decided to ask her out because he wanted to win the game not because he’s attracted to her. This feature reflects the notion of beauty idea in Western cultures of having a body that is literally impossible to attain. It also shows the power relation in society in which the beauty ideal of white, tall and skinny female has become the standard beauty that will attract men. Another point discussed in the film is about the hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is the hierarchy arrangement of multiple masculinity with the highest rank as the most honorable way to be a man. Brooks is an example to demonstrate the idea of hegemonic masculinity. Having a successful career with stable financial status, although by participating in illegal activities, and an attractive appearance, Brooks seem to be superior to others. Even Max, his brother, feels intimidated and emasculated by Brooks and his hegemonic masculinity presentation. This reflects the notion that every man will do whatever it takes to become the top of the pyramid, the presentation of hegemonic masculinity.
In conclusion, the film “Game Night” is definitely worth watching for someone who is looking for a comedy and a burst of laughter with their family and friends. Regarding its failing of the Bechdel Wallace Test, “Game Night” stressed the importance of recognizing that not every movie that have a prominent female character is a feminist film nor does failing the test make it a bad movie. It differs based on individual’s interpretation, even the author of the test itself have warned the audience not to judge the tone and meaning of each film based on the result. The Bechdel-Wallace Test is not perfect because it does not include all the factors that indicate an accurate depiction and representation of women in film. The purpose of this test is to gain awareness of the underrepresentation of women roles in the film industry as well as in our society. Tests like the Bechdel-Wallace Test, the Sexy Lamp Test, the DuVernay Test, or the Vito Russo Test help to recognize the issues of underrepresentation of minority groups in media and in turn reflects the culture of white, heterosexual, male dominated in our society.
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