‘Pacific Rim’ Has Triggered A Fight Over The Bechdel Test

Really the last thing you’d expect Pacific Rim to do would be to lead to political conversations. We love it, but it’s a monster fight-fest and it’s almost gleeful in how shallow it is, how completely lacking in a message it has. Unless, apparently, you want to argue over the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test, for those unfamiliar, comes from the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechdel. It’s designed to illustrate a systemic problem in Hollywood, and it has three simple rules:

  • There have to be two female characters.
  • They have to talk to each other.
  • The conversation can’t be about a man.

Bechdel created it to illustrate the problem of how Hollywood treats women, as a conversation starter. Unfortunately, over time, it has become a kind of meme for that tiresome person in high school who interrupts your conversation to tell you both how wrong you are. Too many people treat the Bechdel Test as the sole litmus test of feminism and/or quality, when that was never the intent: Major works of feminist film can’t pass the Bechdel Test. It’s just a starting point, not the whole conversation. Unless, of course, you want to tell people how much better you are than them because a comic strip said so.

Needless to say, Pacific Rim, featuring a grand total of three female characters with speaking parts, didn’t pass the Bechdel Test, and that brought in said tiresome people. But it’s led to some push back from the Asian community because, well, it stars an Asian woman who isn’t a prostitute or a doormat in a major leading role in a Hollywood film. And that’s a pretty big deal.

True, there’s a limit to the kind of political commentary we can impose on a big dumb action movie. I’ve seen some genuinely mind-numbing arguments over whether or not The Wolverine is feminist because it passes the Bechdel Test, but at the same time mostly depicts the Japanese as demure women, ninjas, Yakuza, or bombing victims. These discussions will only go so far, and you can probably guess how white people are taking being told by non-white people that they don’t get to play anything off just because they misused a meme.

It’s good that nerds, film and comic book alike, are having these conversations, though. The key argument for characters like Mako Mori is that it leads to better characters in the movies we want to see. Better-written entertainment is good for all of us… and in the meantime, there’s always atrocity tourism on Tumblr.