The Bechdel Test (STILL relevant) & 2 Shows Worth Watching on Netflix Right Now

– by Wendy Morley, Publisher –

A shot from Netflix Series, Happy Valley

A shot from Netflix Series, Happy Valley

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A little while ago I was trying to find a movie to watch and got so irritated that I wrote this piece about the archaic state of the movie industry.

Movie after movie after movie has five or six or seven male characters for every female, and the females are almost invariably there as the love (or sex) interest of the main male.

I hadn’t heard of the Bechdel Test before writing that piece, but someone quickly sent me info on it. The Bechdel Test, created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel over 30 years ago, is a simple test for judging a movie (and presumably deciding whether or not to watch it). To pass the test, a movie must follow these three rules:

1. It must have at least two women in it

2. Those two women must talk to each other

3. They must talk about something other than a man

It’s pretty sad to see how little the industry has moved in the past 31 years. A quick look at 2016’s releases show that nearly 40% do not meet even those meager criteria (let’s just pause for a minute here and reflect on that) let alone mine, which are considerably more stringent.

With a considerable amount of effort every single time, I have managed to find some movies and shows that have multiple real, fleshed-out female characters that deal with situations other than looking for a man, having sex with the main male character and being raped and/or murdered.

My top two are both series available on Netflix:

A promotional shot for the show, Wentworth

A promotional shot for the show, Wentworth

The first, Wentworth, about a women’s prison in Australia, which finished its third season last year. This show will inevitably be compared to Orange is the New Black (OITNB), but really the only similarity is the setting along with the fact that the main character in each show believes herself to not belong there. OITNB, while a drama, has more of an American sitcom feel to it. Yes it deals with some social issues and for the most part the characters are not stereotypes, but it’s been painted with a distinct “Hollywood Comedy” sheen.

Wentworth is grittier, the characters more believable, the danger scarier. I like OINTB, but it certainly didn’t captivate me the way Wentworth did. I look forward to the fourth season.

Sarah Lancashire starring in

Sarah Lancashire starring in Happy Valley

The second I’ve only recently discovered. Happy Valley takes place in a depressed area of the UK, in west Yorkshire. The main character, a police sergeant is, as she puts it, 47, divorced. Her daughter committed suicide at 18, her son doesn’t talk to her and she lives with her formerly heroin and alcohol-addicted sister and her deceased daughter’s son.

As you might imagine, “Happy Valley” is not the happiest place. It has deeply ingrained social issues such as poverty and common drug addiction. The young man who may or may not have raped the daughter but is her son’s father has gotten out of jail and is right back to his old ways – ways that threaten the lives of many, both literally and in the everyday enjoyment thereof.

This is one of the best series I’ve ever seen. The acting is impeccable, the writing so very real. Situations might be a little extreme and coincidental from time to time but the way they’re handled is completely believable. Where it really shines is in the way it shows the complexity of humanity and most importantly human relationships, from moment to moment, from day to day and throughout the years. Highly recommended. As a bonus, as the show is not American, the cast is made up of people of all ages, without botox, fillers, lipo and boob jobs. If only Americans would start creating films like this.