Happy November! No longer under the pressure of October that forces us to stay within the TV genres of horror, thriller, and Hocus Pocus, but not yet under that of December, which confines us to too many films involving a large, very judgy, bearded man, we have neutral November. This month of transition from fall to winter we'll watch whatever we are inclined—and hopefully that means movies that give women roles beyond background noise. In order to figure out which ones do, I use the Bechdel Test.
What's the Bechdel Test, you ask? In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel published a strip titled "The Rule" (see below) for her comic Dykes To Watch Out For, in which one woman explains to another that she'll only watch a film if it meets three requirements:
- It has to have at least two women in it.
- They have to speak to each other.
- The topic of the conversation has to be about anything other than men.
And like that, the Bechdel test was born. Bechdel later said that the idea came from her friend, Liz Wallace. As such, the test is often referred to as the "Bechdel–Wallace test."
Of course, the test is somewhat arbitrary and by no means a way to designate whether a film is feminist, but if we're watching movies that can't be bothered to include two women talking about literally anything but men, we're letting filmmakers get away with a pretty big disservice to their audiences.
Here are seven movies new to Netflix this month that pass the Bechdel Test. Unfortunately, those featuring women of color in main roles were few and far between, here's to hoping the films new to Netflix in December do better on that front.
Julie & Julia
Julie & Julia follows the lives of both Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a call center employee living in downtown Manhattan and Julia Child (Meryl Streep), the world renowned American chef. Powell, disenchanted with her job, decides that she’s going to make every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) by Child over the course of a year while blogging about her journey. The film cuts between Powell’s recipe making and Child’s life as she became a chef and created her debut book, the very one Powell is devoted to. In terms of the Bechdel Test, the film is remarkable not only for passing—which it does, despite the fact that Julie and Julia never actually meet—but for a plot that relies not at all on men, instead depicting two separate women wholly, with their nuances and challenges unrelated to men or romance. .
Into the Forest
This 2015 Canadian drama follows sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) as they try to survive in their rural home after an enduring power outage that threatens their access to food. Nell develops a relationship with a boy named Eli who tries to get her to leave her sister and flee to Boston with him, but Nell eventually refuses. As a film with two women leads and a woman director, Patricia Rozema, the movie easily passes the Bechdel Test. Trigger warning: the movie also includes a rape scene.
Bring It On: In It to Win It
Featuring Ashley Benson as the main character, Bring It On: In It to Win It is the fourth installment of the Bring It On franchise, but it doesn’t reference the other films whatsoever. The movie focuses on two rival cheer teams: the Sharks and the Jets who go head to head at a cheer camp championship. The movie also follows a romance between Benson’s character Carson and a hot guy who cheers for the Jets, who she meets and develops a crush on before realizing he’s on her rival team. Bring It On: In It to Win It is a cheesy 2007 throwback at best and problematic at worst, but its saving grace is its unexpected occult element: When Carson loses the camp’s “cheer stick” she fears she’s cursed her entire team, and begs the Cheer Gods to save her. Due to drama and rivalry between the cheer captains on the Sharks and the Jets, Bring It On: In It to Win It passes the Bechdel Test in numerous scenes.
Sex and the City: The Movie
Listen, I know that the entirety of the Sex and the City series revolves around discussing men and their bizarre incompetence when it comes to love and dating over brunch and luxury shoe shopping. It doesn’t exactly scream feminism, but, as I’ve said, the Bechdel Test is a low bar and the Sex and the City movie happens to pass it. There are numerous conversations that the four main characters have between one another that don’t involve men as they navigate pregnancy, marriage, and work now in their forties.
Sadly 1980s rom-coms aren’t known for their tendency to pass the Bechdel Test, so it’s refreshing that a classic like Sixteen Candles does. The movie follows Sam Baker on her 16th birthday, which her family has forgotten, as she deals with her budding crush on classmate Jake Ryan, being a curious virgin, and the disappointment and excitement that come with it all. Between conversations with her mom and friends, Sixteen Candles passes the Bechdel test.
Scary Movie 2 and 3
Sure, we just said goodbye to Halloween, but November is cold and still prime for scary movie watching, making it the perfect time to throw on Scary Movies 2 and 3. Both films deal with the paranormal, giving us just enough creepy before sprinkling in some gross comedy. They may have come out in the early 2000s, but surprisingly, both pass the Bechdel Test with multiple named woman characters in leading roles who speak with one another consistently. They were, however, produced by Harvey Weinstein's Miramax, so that may be something you want to take into account before flipping on.