Wendyl Nissen

Wendyl Nissen on being 'The Supportive Wife'

Wendyl Nissen: Time for movie moguls to pay heed to Bechdel test

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Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, which passes the Bechdel test.
Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, which passes the Bechdel test.

There was a time when I would be quite feisty when it came to making the sensitive decision about what movie to watch as a couple.

I would reject anything involving violence, bloke bonding, depressing topics, fantasy, anything to do with sad children, American humour (British or French was okay), space travel, anything that glorified war and anything with Gwyneth Paltrow in it.

Which left costume dramas with characters named Darcy and Heathcliff in them. My husband isn't a big fan of the bustle and the bodice so we have opted for taking turns to pick which movie we see.

But since becoming a supportive wife for a year I've been more amenable and willing to try new ventures into the world of cinema.

"You choose," I say pleasantly as he scans his iPhone for movie night suggestions. "Anything you like."

I've since watched quite a few French movies - usually involving an intense couple working through something even more intense than they are while smoking, reading a lot and drinking red wine.

I've watched documentaries about young dancers who conveniently injure themselves just before the final dance-off and movies that were made in the 60s and deemed to be "classic".

I've tested the horror genre and spent the whole movie hiding behind my cardy. And to my delight I've discovered I really like superhero action movies such as Thor and robot sci-fi such as Pacific Rim.

But one thing that hasn't changed is the dismal role women play in most movies. Women seem to be there simply to provide some visual light relief, an annoying obstacle or the defining reason the hero doesn't do something he was supposed to do because he had to save the woman he was in love with.

In bloke movies like The Hangover series women are always portrayed as annoying partners on the end of a phone nagging the men for not doing something they are supposed to do. Meanwhile, a really hot woman distracts the man. Then he sees sense and the one on the phone turns up and all is forgiven. It wasn't until Bridesmaids was released that any of that nonsense changed.

Any woman who is taken seriously in a movie - say she plays a doctor or a psychologist - must have grey hair, glasses and wear sensible trouser suits. Or be Judi Dench.

Do actresses read these scripts and ever think, "God, for once I wish someone would cast me as something meaningful. Something I can get my teeth into!"

What would happen if every actress in Hollywood went on strike until some decent roles were written?

I was having a moan about this to my feminist 25-year-old daughter when she advised me to Google the words "Bechdel test" in a way 25-year-old daughters have of leaving you with the distinct impression that you are so behind the times.

Alison Bechdel is a graphic novelist who came up with three ways to check the gender bias of a movie. A) The movie must have two named female characters who B) talk to one another about C) something other than a man.

My 15-year-old daughter happily presented The Hunger Games and Catching Fire as two fine examples of positive women roles. And the TV series Breaking Bad as a bad example citing all the female characters as either nuts or very unlikeable.

I immediately applied it to Gravity, which is the most positive female movie I've seen in years, only to find it didn't pass, mainly because the movie is almost entirely made up of one woman character played by Sandra Bullock. If you haven't seen it you might want to skip the next paragraph, but basically Sandra's character battles technology, the universe and her own self-doubt to get herself safely back to earth. In the final shot we see her legs planted firmly on earth from behind.

I desperately wanted her to then get her period - as yucky as that would be in a visual sense - so that viewers would know that not only did she do all of that, but she did it while she was premenstrual. It might not pass the Bechdel test but it would be a step in the right direction.

- NZ Herald

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