The Bechdel Test is something that movies should always strive to abide by. As TRI director Jai Jamison told me (in an upcoming interview), the test actually provides such a low benchmark for films, but still, films routinely fail this most basic of qualifications.
For a movie to pass the test (made popular by cartoonist Allison Bechdel but attributed by Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace, as stated by Pass the Bechdel Test), it must be able to check off these three items from the list (as quoted from the site):
1. Has to have at least two [named*] women in it
2. Who have a conversation with each other
3. About something other than a man
The test is one that has also acted as the basis for other types of inclusive tests, and Disability Thinking’s Andrew Pulrang has used it to create what he calls “The Tyrion Test,” named after one of the most visible and most complicated characters with disability, Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones.
The original version of his test, created in 2014, read as this:
1) At least one character with disabilities is involved in significant plot developments not centered on their disabilities,
2) Disabilities are depicted realistically, neither less nor more severe than they would be in real life, and
3) Disabled characters are givers as well as receivers…supportive of other characters, not just supported by them.
This year, Pulrang released a shorter version of the list:
1) Features two or more disabled characters, who
2) Talk to each other,
3) About something other than their disabilities.
Pulrang might have shortened his test, but he’s still vying for the nuances he prescribed in his original test. “I still think it also matters whether disabled characters have real agency, whether or not they are fully developed, and what kind of role they play in their stories,” he wrote. “I also think it’s good when writers avoid leaning on a few tired disability tropes and stereotypes.”
Hollywood would do well to take heed to this new test and actually apply it, because hiring non-disabled actors is not only lazy, but it’s also denying actors with disabilities the chance to achieve their Hollywood dreams. Equally as lazy is writing either writing disabled characters as “inspiration porn” or excluding them all together, when people with disabilities are just as much part of the population as anyone else. As I wrote in my Ghost in the Shell Nerds of Color piece, Hollywood is supposed to be about examining the human condition. Why does it make more sense to Hollywood to examine all of the human condition, which also includes the experiences of those with disabilities, with non-disabled actors?
(I know there are arguments about how it’s easier for Hollywood to hire able-bodied actors, but to that I say: Why does Hollywood have to be defined by ableism and ableist spaces? What’s the answer to that question?)
The fact that actors with disabilities aren’t considered and able-bodied actors are preferred goes part and parcel with the assumptions that 1) people with disabilities only exist for the emotional development of able-bodied people and 2) well-rounded people with disabilities don’t exist. (You can read more about the common misconceptions held about people with disabilities here). Instead of reducing characters with disabilities to a very abelist, patronizing perspective, writers should use The Tyrion Test and other tests as a way to see if their stories hold up to the standards of inclusiveness. To that end, Hollywood could easily fix this their ableist perception towards actors with disabilities if they wanted, and starting with a simple test like Pulrang’s adaptation could act as a great reminder to give actors with disabilities the chances they deserve.
Another article to check out:
The disability community’s Bechdel Test | Al Jazeera America