By Justice Geddes
Dec. 17, tonight, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” premieres across the globe. Never before have so many advance tickets been purchased; never before have so many embraced their inner nerd. The Star Wars franchise is an essential part of American culture, and of the childhoods and development of… mostly men.
In a 1985 comic, cartoonist Alison Bechdel accidentally devised the rules behind the now-famous Bechdel-Wallace test, designed to assess the presence and power of women in film. These were the specifications:
- The film has to have at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man.
Only half of all movies pass.
The entire film industry is remarkably unfriendly towards women. A USC study in October uncovered that while women make up 28 percent of directors of short films, they only make up 4.1 percent of full-length film directors. The lead author of the study, Stacy Smith, PhD, stated that it became obvious that “when money moves in, women get pushed out.”
Celebrities such as Emma Watson and Rose McGowan have protested this unfair treatment, and media outrage has been sparked whenever it is revealed that an actress is paid significantly less than her male colleagues for any given film or television series. (The Guardian reports that “99 percent of women working in the film and TV industry have experienced sexism.”)
So why hasn’t anything changed?
The reason, most of the time, is that men working in the industry want it to be that way. They resist change. Lexi Alexander, director of Green Street and Lifted, says that “the director is considered the general, and just like in the military, [male executives] still can’t picture anyone not born with the Y chromosome with that title.”
“Suffragette” director Sarah Gavron agrees.
“I’ve endlessly found myself in rooms of men and had the experience of feeling I wasn’t being heard. When I was younger, I used to fantasise about being a man. I’d think: ‘Oh, if I were a man, I’d walk in here and it would all be simpler. I wouldn’t have to be self-conscious.’”
It gets worse.
Cinematographer Agnés Godard told The Guardian about her experiences working on “Paris, Texas,” in which a male supervisor claimed that every good frame she made was actually made by a male assistant.
Amma Asante, who directed “Belle and A Way of Life,” told this story:
“On my first film, after completing my very first shot, I was approached by a member of the crew who asked me if I ‘knew why women bleed.’ When I looked at him, slightly confused, he answered “because they’re evil.’”
Somehow, sexism is rooted into the minds of Hollywood men–-male directors, producers, actors, and crew can’t even perceive women as capable of being as talented as them.
Unfortunately, today’s standards for the female gender have not contributed to respect or success for women. Even today, Gallup finds that five percent of Americans say they would never vote for a woman to become president, and a whopping eighty percent refuse to identify as feminist, a word which solely means “in favor of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men,” according to Merriam-Webster. Americans are scared of women having power, especially in the traditionally male-dominated realm of media.
Meanwhile, no Star Wars film so far has passed the Bechdel-Wallace test.
In “A New Hope,” at least, there are two female characters: Princess Leia and Luke’s aunt, Beru. But they never meet, let alone speak, and (spoiler) Beru dies anyways. (Also, there are approximately two black people in the universe…but that’s another column.) The majority of George Lucas’ female cast are strippers or prostitutes. And Princess Leia, of course, abandons the people of her destroyed planet Alderaan to go rescue Han in Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars morals: women don’t have jobs, they have men.
And yet, I already have my tickets to the new Star Wars film. But don’t worry, I’ve done my research: “The Force Awakens” stars Daisy Ridley as Rey, a female character, who in some of the promo posters and pictures, is holding a lightsaber.
So yes, go and see “The Force Awakens.” But keep a critical mind. Pay attention to the women portrayed. And remind your children and little siblings that girls are powerful and important.
Rey had better be really awesome, George. #firstnamebasis