Okay. I love this movie. It’s clever, it’s a laugh a minute, and its family friendly message ties it all together nicely at the end. There’s just one thing I wasn’t pleased about with The Lego Movie: It fails the Bechdel test. (It fails in my opinion. There is some debate on bechdeltest.com, but at best its pass is a technicality.)
What’s that? Well, it’s a test of female representation in movies that first originated with a comic by Alison Bechdel. The gist is, to pass, a movie needs to have at least two women having a conversation that isn’t about a man. That’s all. Passing doesn’t mean a movie is great, and failing doesn’t mean it’s misogynist. (By the way, most films fail.) The test is, however, a valuable tool to help writers think about the number of female characters they include and the types of roles female characters inhabit.
NOTE: I talk about Lego Movie characters below, not plot. I don’t think these include any real spoilers, but look away now if you don’t want to know anything for fear of ruining the movie. And it is a very fun film.
Let’s look at the central characters on the side of good. There’s one woman, one non-human female and five men. Not even close to the real life ratio of women to men. Then, there’s the roles these females play. Our one woman is the love interest. The non-human female is a comic character based around her girlishness. Huh.
But, what could this have been with a more even gender representation? Imagine if Morgan Freeman’s character was female. What about a female Robopirate?
Yet, before we get too incensed, it is important to consider that these are probably not deliberate choices. I don’t think so anyway. I think that these characters are male because it felt right to the writers. And it is that feeling that we need to analyze. Why did it feel right for the mentor character (and virtually all mentor characters) to be male? What does that say about society?
So, the next time you write a character that just feels right to be male or to be female, ask yourself why? Think about the kinds of messages you may be passing on unintentionally and how you can make statements by flipping the gender expectations. Give your story a Bechdel test or a reverse Bechdel test (do you have enough men?) and look at your choices. Stories—Movies, novels, short works—all say something about gender. What do you have to say?
*While we’re wondering where the Lego women are in the movie, we might wonder where they are in the toy stores too, as a 7-year-old girl recently brought to national attention.
*I know I haven’t even touched on the lack of racial diversity in the movie, which is another huge topic and could be its own post.