State of the Arts: Bechdel Film Fest Puts Gender Equality Into Focus

May 24, 2019

Many movies opening this summer won't pass the test, the Bechdel Test. It brings attention to gender inequality in mainstream film. The Bechdel Film Fest brings 50 films that pass the test to downtown Akron, including shorts, foreign films and some surprising Hollywood hits. On this week’s State of the Arts we talk with the festival's founder about highlighting female voices in front of and behind the camera.

So what is the Bechdel Test exactly? 

"(It has) some very particular criteria in terms of film and fiction," Bechdel Film Fest founder Brit Charek said. 

"(A passing film) has to have two women, who have names, and these women have to speak to each other about something besides what the men or boys are doing." 

More than half of films released today actually fail the test. That's a big reason why Charek has spent years putting together this film festival. 

"When I kind of put it out there we got more and more partners that wanted to be involved. So something that started out as a little film festival at The Nightlight is now turning into going across seven venues in five days and 50 films."

Partners include Akron-Summit Public Library, the Akron Art Museum and the Myers School of Art

The Right Time
Charek started planning the film festival in 2017 with funding from the Knight Arts Challenge.

Brit Charek started the Bechdel Film Fest to give women more of a voice in film.
Credit Mark Arehart / WKSU

Since then she says gender equality has come to the forefront with the Me Too, Time's Up and Now You Know Me movements.   

"When we're living in this world where there's constant attacks on basic human rights of the underrepresented, it's really important to hear those stories and know those people so we can all have a seat at the table."

Eighty-one percent of the festival's directors are women, Charek said. "In addition we have one non-binary identifying director. So it's not just the people in front, but it is also the people behind the camera who are telling these stories. The nuances are coming from a place of understanding."

Hollywood Hits
The Bechdel Film Fest includes some major studio films like 1992's "A League of Their Own" and even 2019's "The Lego Movie Two: The Second Part."

Charek said recent kids movies are bringing female characters to the forefront. 

"You see a lot of allyship. You see not just the representation of women front and center, but the men providing a stage for them." 

Ohio Filmmakers
Several films from regional directors are featured in the festival, including "But I'm A Cheerleader," directed by Shaker Heights native Jamie Babbit

"That was really one of the first mainstream representations of a queer woman in popular film," Charek said. 

The movie, which is celebrating 20 years since its release this year, has become a beloved cult classic. 

In addition to several feature films, Babbit has directed  episodes of "Silicon Valley," "Gilmore Girls," "Russian Doll," and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." 

Charek hopes Babbit's success in film and television will inspire another generation of filmmakers. 

"If she can see it, she can be it. And so that kind of representation, both in front of and behind the camera is so important." 

The Bechdel Film Fest runs May 29 - June 2 in downtown Akron.

The five-day Bechdel Film Fest spreads out across downtown Akron.
Credit Bechdel Film Fest