10 Movies From 2021 That Pass The Bechdel Test
Content Warning: This article has a discussion of sensitive themes.
The representation of women in cinema has come a long way – but there’s still a long way to go before it’s on equal footing with the screen time and storylines afforded to male characters. The Bechdel test is a popular way of monitoring the way female characters are presented in films.
To pass the Bechdel test, a film must feature two named female characters. The characters also have to speak to each other about something besides a man. It’s not too much to ask for – but some films still fail the Bechdel test, even in 2021 – but these movies pass with honors.
10 Raya And The Last Dragon (Disney+)
Disney’s Raya And The Last Dragon is full of empowered female characters – from Raya herself to her rival, Namaari, to Sisu, the titular last dragon. Not only that, but many of the characters in this film are also people of color – making Disney’s animation repertoire more inclusive and far-reaching.
As a children’s film, it’s incredibly important that girls see women represented fully and in their own right on-screen. To their credit, Disney are putting female characters front and center more and more, as seen in the success of Frozen, Moana, and now Raya And The Last Dragon.
9 The United States Vs Billie Holiday (Hulu)
Billie Holiday’s story is a tragic one and told in this film by the doyen of melancholy Black storytelling, Lee Daniels. Focusing on Holiday’s chilling anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit,” as well as her persecution by the FBI, this long-awaited film is sure to move audiences for generations to come.
This harrowing story gives a modern voice to a Black woman who refused to be silenced, making it one of the most important films of 2021.
8 Moxie (Netflix)
Directed by Amy Poehler, Moxie is an overt rebellion against the toxic patriarchal systems that are rife in youth culture. So viewers would expect it to pass the Bechdel test with flying colors – and it does.
After witnessing a series of inappropriate events at school – none of which are taken seriously by the staff – Vivian, played by Hadley Robinson, starts Moxie – a magazine that calls out toxic behavior. While the film has its comedic moments, at heart it’s a film about serious issues, including rape, power, and privilege.
7 The Mauritanian (Prime Video)
Few of the films on this list have a male protagonist and still manage to pass the Bechdel test – but The Mauritanian is different. While being held at Guantanamo, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is represented by two lawyers, played by Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley. The lawyers talk a lot about Slahi, it’s true, but also about the complex legalities and nuances of his case.
Not all of the director’s previous films have passed the Bechdel test, so it’s noteworthy that his latest offering is more inclusive and representative of women.
6 Cruella (Disney+)
With an all-star cast led by Emma Stone as the eponymous Cruella (née Estella), Cruella has no time for romance. The story sees Cruella seek revenge for the death of her mother at the hands of the Baroness von Hellman (played sensationally by Emma Thompson).
With quirky allusions to the 101 Dalmatians franchise that preceded it, Cruella is a thrilling movie that isn’t so much feminist as proof that women can be the stars of madcap crime capers, too.
5 Sweetheart (BFI Player)
This funny, heartfelt coming-of-age story from directorial debutant(e) Marley Morrison perfectly captures the trauma of family holidays for teenagers – as well as the beauty of summer romances.
Sweetheart tells the story of AJ, a teenage girl who becomes enchanted with Isla, a beautiful lifeguard. AJ experiences love, romance, and pretending to be someone else to fit in – making Sweetheart a true teenage rites of passage film.
4 Sentinelle (Netflix)
This French revenge movie sees Klara, a war veteran, seek vengeance against the man who raped her sister. The premise has some similarities to that of 2020’s Oscar-winning movie Promising Young Woman – but Sentinelle doesn’t feature the dark comedic moments of Emerald Fennell’s film.
Sentinelle discusses the disparity between women and men in terms of power and justice. While Klara and her sister suffer, the rapist is protected by diplomatic immunity, forcing Klara to take retribution into her own hands.
3 The Woman In The Window (Netflix)
Joe Wright’s homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window is a psychologically intriguing watch, even if some of the twists and turns feel a little contrived. With an all-star cast including Amy Adams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Julianne Moore, it includes a plethora of compelling characters.
Like Rear Window, The Woman In The Window passes the Bechdel test, featuring wilful female characters who participate in complex storylines. It’s an interesting watch for fans of psychologically perplexing cinema.
2 Coming 2 America (Prime Video)
The friendship that blossoms between Lisa and Mary in the film is cute, with both Leslie Jones and Shari Headley making much of their roles – especially in the scene where they perform the Humpty Dance.
1 Finding ‘Ohana (Netflix)
Finding ‘Ohana sees a group of teenagers connect with their Hawaiian heritage as they seek a hidden Peruvian treasure deep inside a mountain. Jude Weng’s first feature film includes a cast that is funny, spirited – and led by the fabulous newcomer Kea Peahu.
With influences from Indiana Jones to The Goonies – but with more female representation than both – Finding ‘Ohana is another family-friendly film that’s inclusive, whimsical and a lot of fun.
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