Christian Coleman takes a look at how black men are portrayed in some of the movies he’s watched recently.
A 1985 comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF) written by Allison Bechdel introduced a standard for gauging female roles in movies. The test is called the Bechdel Test, the Mo Movie Measure or the Bechdel rule. Whatever you call it, the criteria are the same. A movie must 1) Have two women (some stricter folks require they have names) 2) who talk to each other 3) not about a man.
It’s staggering to realize which movies fail miserably without our ever noticing. If you don’t believe me, go to The Bechdel Test website and see for yourself. Movies like Captain America (2011) and Green Lantern (2011) fall staggeringly short even if the women aren’t required to have names. This is somewhat to be expected, though. Comic book creators and Hollywood types agreed long ago (without asking me) that women aren’t interested in superheroes. There’s some evidence to support this, but the issue is that we don’t even notice. Women don’t notice, and men don’t notice (I checked out the website with some friends). I was staggered at first that women would watch these movies, even ones targeting them, and never notice how they were being slighted.
I’m not here to talk about women, though they’re a crucial part of what it takes to be a good man. I’m a black man. (I know this because people make a big deal when I date white women.)
So what I’m proposing is an adapted Bechdel Test. If you feel so inclined, you can name it after me. I would never be so bold as to claim that title mostly because The Christian Test would probably pose some complications.
So in the Bechdel Black Test, I want to propose new rules: 1) Must have two black people (preferably with names), 2) who talk to each other, and 3) about something other than being black or using the word “nigga.”
Now, stop. How many movies have you watched in the last three months that passed this test? Failed this test? Do you even know? Have you even thought about it before this last moment?
It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t because to be honest, I haven’t either. Suddenly, it became apparent to me how women could be so unaware of so many movies’ miserable showings on the original Bechdel Test. I didn’t know the answers to the Bechdel Black Test, and I’m a black man. (I know this because college kids try to buy drugs from me.)
I watch more movies in the average week than most people watch in three months. (I’m sort of Navy SEAL-esque in that way … and others.) So, I thought about the movies I’ve watched in the past week. I’m going to disregard foreign films and period pieces.
Wanted (2008) 3/3 (Morgan Freeman and Common). Note: Angelina Jolie’s character, Fox, is a black woman in the graphic novel and was white-washed by Hollywood.
Trust (2011) 0/3.
Trespass (2011) 0/ 3. But an honorable mention should be given for a movie about criminals with no black people.
Kick-Ass (2010) 0/3. Only black person is a mugger.
The Resident (2011) 0/3. No black people, but Hilary Swank makes everything OK. Note: She lives in Brooklyn…
I’ve watched a bunch more, but I purposefully picked movies that I really enjoyed recently. I enjoy these movies that fail the Bechdel Black Test, and I’m black. (I know this because people tell me how “well-spoken” I am.)
Does that make me a race traitor? Insensitive? Colorblind? Or just blind?
I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say but maybe this will generate some good comments and we’ll edge closer to being good men.