No Small-talk in Paradise: why Elysium fails the Bechdel Test and why we should care

Part of book or chapter of book English OPEN
Van Raalte, Christa (2015)
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

After a century of feminist activism, women are still marginalized in many areas of human activity throughout the Western world – and women are still marginalized in the outputs of the culturally powerful dream factory that is the Hollywood film industry. This is not a coincidence. The 'Bechdel Test' is a rule of thumb to determine the extent to which women are marginalised in a film or television text. Popularised by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, it is not an academic theory but a joke of sorts that has become itself a meme of popular culture - and is arguably all the more powerful for that. To pass the test a film must feature at least two named female characters, who have a conversation with one another about something other than a man. While it does not grapple with qualitative issues of ideology and representation, it does have the virtue of simplicity. It is able to cut through the post-modern sophistry that can obscure some unpalatable truths about modern culture and the society that produces and consumes it, at a time when the number of speaking female characters in top grossing Hollywood films appears to be in decline, from an unedifying 2009 high of 33%(Smith, S 2013). I would arguing that the issue highlighted by the Bechdel test merit serious academic attention. In this paper, I will discuss some of these issues in relation to mainstream Hollywood film. In particular I will focus on the recent sci-fi blockbuster Elysium (Blomkamp 2013), arguing that the utilisation of its two female leads, and the pointed manner in which they are deprived of an opportunity to pass the Bechdel test, bring into focus some critical concerns about gender representations in 21st century Hollywood.
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