By J.D. ECARMA
This weekly column analyzing how women are portrayed in film is what happens when you're a conservative feminist who loves movies. Feminism often uses the Bechdel test as a metric: Does this movie have a scene where two women with names talk about something other than a guy? The point of the test is not “movies that pass this are feminist”—it’s “this is the absolute base point of whether or not women are their own people in this movie.” I attempt to go a little further each week with a deeper analysis.
Note: Very minor spoilers.
If you felt that disturbance in the Force … it’s true. The latest “Star Wars” installment passes the Bechdel test.
For comparison, no film in the original “Star Wars” trilogy makes it over the Bechdel test’s purposely low bar of one scene, any scene, where two women with names talk to each other about something (anything!) other than a guy. (Those annoying “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” movies do pass the test, but unfortunately no one cares because they’re terrible.)
In the latest movie, which revives the franchise for a new trilogy helmed by J.J. Abrams, Daisy Ridley’s Rey has a key conversation about her destiny with thousand-year-old female pirate Maz Kanata (played by Lupita Nyong'o). She also shares a scene with General Leia, who gives young Rey the signature “Star Wars” farewell: “May the Force be with you.”
Feminists can be pretty excited about “The Force Awakens.” Rey isn’t forced into the plot as a way to check off the “include a woman” box; both she and John Boyega as fellow new character Finn shine in a cast that includes iconic "Star Wars" actors Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.
“The Force Awakens” doesn’t need to settle for merely passing the Bechdel test, which is after all, a metric that can be reached with just a couple of lines of dialogue. Rey is an intriguing character in her own right who is an integral part of the adventure and who never falls into the Strong Female Character trap. This is by far the most inclusive “Star Wars” film yet and while “The Hunger Games” could give it a run for its money, “The Force Awakens” is arguably the most inclusive installment of a major action film franchise ever made.
To put it plainly: When was the last time you saw a blockbuster franchise film that had a black man and a woman as the two leads driving the storyline?
Drawing from BoxOfficeMojo’s list of all-time biggest box office, the huge franchises of our time have included Marvel’s “The Avengers,” the “Harry Potter” series, “Iron Man,” “Transformers,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Spider-man,” “Indiana Jones”—in other words, franchise after franchise that is predominantly white and male. Female characters are often added to allow for love scenes (e.g., Arwen in the first LOTR or each successive woman in the original “Indiana Jones” trilogy), while lead characters of color are rare.
There’s nothing wrong with those films per se, and I’m definitely not calling for LOTR or “Indiana Jones” to be re-made with more diverse casts or more feminist scripts. But that doesn’t mean I’m not also super excited to see “The Force Awakens” making its way up the all-time box office Top 10.
It would be a hollow victory if “The Force Awakens” knew that #RepresentationMatters but was not an enjoyable movie. But thankfully, “Star Wars Episode VII” is a stellar sequel that mixes nostalgia and new adventure in a way that should charm both the most hardcore fan and anyone who hasn’t seen the old movies. New characters Rey and Finn are just part of that magic.
Jordan is a former journalist now living the millennial dream: getting paid for writing Facebook statuses (that is, digital PR). She watches her use of the f-word ("feminism") around conservatives and the c-word ("conservatism") around feminists. Find her under @JordanEcarma.