There have been a number of conversations about diversity at the Oscars this year, and while I was going to write an article on the subject, Nathaniel Rogers over at the Film Experience beat me to it, and did it so well that I feel that linking is the best way to add to the conversation (though please read through it if you want to have a conversation to improve diversity in Hollywood and not just want to complain about the Oscars). As a result of this, but still wanting to contribute to the conversation, I decided to comment on something that actually got better this year than last year, though it's not where we want it to be yet (optimism is out-of-vogue on the internet, but I figured I'd give it a shot) and that is the amount of women that are in the Best Picture field.
As you may recall from last year, only one of the eight nominees for Best Picture featured a woman in a leading role (The Theory of Evrything's Felicity Jones), and only half of the films managed to pass the Bechdel Test. This year we actually have a rosier picture, even if movies like Carol didn't manage to make it into the conversation, as nearly half of the films feature a female lead in their picture. The rest of the field may have had some room for improvement, but let's take a rundown of the eight Best Pictures and the roles that women played in each of them (Spoilers Ahead for all eight films so if you haven't seen one, skip, only read the rest, and bookmark for a later date)
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: 1? (I hate the IMDB method of only going with first person onscreen-list by order in the cast credits!). As a result, I don't know if it was Finn Wittrock or in fact Marisa Tomei or Melissa Leo in the fifth position. Let's go benefit of the doubt and assume it's Marisa Tomei even though screen-time wise it's not remotely her.
What is Her Relationship to the Main Character? Wife
What Role Does She Have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: Absolutely nothing-she becomes a bit of a sounding board for Steve Carell, but really there's little she has to do with the film's resolution.
Does She Have a Her Own Life Outside the Main Character?: No, she doesn't-we never see Tomei outside of her life that involves her husband.
Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?: No, it does not.
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: 1 (Amy Ryan)
What is Her Relationship to the Main Character?: Wife
What Role Does She Have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: She's in the final scene of the movie if I recall correctly (or at least near it), but she's mostly just there to remind James Donovan of what normalcy is in his world. Her life has little bearing on the outcome of the picture.
Does She Have Her Own Life Outside the Main Character?: No, she does not. Amy's Mary is little more than window dressing in this film, someone who is there to support, occasionally cajole, but ultimately I don't know that she even has any scenes that don't feature her husband (she definitely doesn't have any scenes that don't center upon him).
Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?: No, it does not.
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: 2 (Saoirse Ronan and Julie Walters)
What Is Her Relationship to the Main Character?: With Ronan, she's actually the main character as this is one of the steps in the right direction in this category. For Walters, she plays Ronan's landlord.
What Role Does She Have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: Ronan is an integral part of the ending of the film, and actually shapes her own narrative even if it is ultimately about deciding on a man (still, it's on deciding specifically which man she wants to be with which is very empowering). For Walters, she really only features into the first half of the film, so she has no bearing on the ending.
Does She Have Her Own Life Outside the Main Character?: Again, Ronan is the main character and most definitely has an evolution of her own, even outside of the main character. For Walters, she does as well-she's been a landlord for years, has scenes interacting with her other female tenants, and while she rarely (if ever?) appears in a scene without Ronan's Eilis, it's clear she has other relationships in the film.
Does It Pass the Bechdel Test?: Constantly-the film's first half in particular is all about the relationships women have with each other and the common struggle of female immigrants in particular.
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: 2 (Charlize Theron and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley)
What Is Her Relationship to the Main Character?: While Tom Hardy's Mad Max may get top-billing and the film uses his character for the title, this is all about the Imperator Furiosa, so this is another case where one of the women is in fact the main character. In the case of Huntington-Whiteley's Splendid Angharad, she is one of the women that Furiosa is trying to save.
What Role Does She Have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: In the end Furiosa ends up the savior of the Citadel, riding in as their new leader and essentially taking over. Huntington-Whiteley has little bearing on the ending, but she too manages to at least live until the end and is welcomed back into the Citadel.
Does She Have Her Own Life Outside the Main Character?: This is true of both women. Furiosa has been pining to get to her home of the Green Place and Max is incidental to this goal, while The Splendid Angharad has had a pretty crappy life up until this point, but it's clearly established and gets a personality distinct from the other wives.
Does It Pass the Bechdel Test?: Yes-it's a little hard to follow on this front because names aren't often given out and when they are they don't sound like names, but I'm fairly confident that the wives and the Vuvalini all get names at some point, and they have multiple discussions about their journey and the Green Place, so I'm going with a pass.
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: 2 (Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara)
What is Her Relationship to the Main Character?: In the case of Chastain's Commander Melissa Lewis, she's his boss and in the case of Kate Mara's Beth, she's a fellow crew mate on his ship.
What Role Does She have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: While both women are involved in Mark's rescue, in the case of Chastain in particular she plays a pretty integral role as she has to suspend and risk her life in order to save Mark from Mars.
Does She Have Her Own Life Outside the Main Character?: Again, with Chastain this isn't really well-established. We see her having interactions with other characters, and her job is clearly important to her, but Mark Watney is her focus for almost the entire film and she doesn't really get a side story. Mara, on the other hand, gets a romantic interest (and it's Sebastian Stan, no less), and so I'd say yes for her getting a life outside of Mark since she has relationships established outside of his world.
Does It Pass the Bechdel Test?: Yes-I had to look this one up as I couldn't remember an instance of this happening, but it does appear that Chastain and Mara discuss decompressing the ship, so this is pass.
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: None-this is the only film (The Big Short is a question mark) where we can unequivocally state that there are no women in the top billed stars. Grace Dove is the top billed actress for the movie as far as I can tell even though she doesn't have a line, though Melaw Nakehk'o gets a character with a line and a name, it's worth noting. For the purposes of this exercise we'll stick with the higher-billed Dove as that's who the film spends more time upon.
What is Her Relationship to the Main Character?: Dead wife
What Role Does She have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: While she is in some ways a driving force in the film, that role more accurately falls upon her son, in which case absolutely none.
Does She Have a Role Outside the Main Character?: Literally none-she's dead the entire movie, and as a result only exists in his own flashbacks and premonitions, so this isn't really an option for her.
Does It Pass the Bechdel Test?: Not even close. Nakehk'o has the only named female character, and she gets one line that is used toward a man.
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: 2 (Brie Larson and Joan Allen)
What is Her Relationship to the Main Character?: For the third time this year, we have a film where a female character (in this case Larson's Joy) is the main character. Joan Allen plays her mother.
What Role Does She have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: Joy's a central part of the conclusion, and the final moments of the film actually return to her narrative, even if we always see the film through Jack's eyes (except in the last moment where Joy has to contemplate what Room was to her). Allen's role is largely ancillary to the final conclusion of the film.
Does She Have a Role Outside the Main Character?: This is a complicated question, especially since by limits of geography Joy doesn't have a role outside the main character but she frequently has to deal with troubles that don't involve Jack, and has to sort through her own mental issues after her breakdown during the interview. Joan Allen's character also has a boyfriend and has dealt with relationships apart from Joy and Jack, so I'd also count her as a yes here.
Does It Pass the Bechdel Test?: Yes, the film has multiple scenes between Joy and Joan Allen's Nancy, including discussions of their relationship and the trauma of the kidnapping.
Number of Females in the Top-5 Billed Stars: 1 (Rachel McAdams)
What is Her Relationship to the Main Character?: I'm going to assume here that Keaton is considered the main character, even though he's not top-billed, in which case her relationship is employee of him. This is more of an ensemble piece, though, so it's hard to say.
What Role Does She Have to the Eventual Conclusion of the Film?: She's definitely a part of the finale, waiting and answering calls and playing a crucial role in the writing of the Catholic priest/pedophile story.
Does She Have a Role Outside the Main Character?: A lot has been made about McAdams' Oscar nomination and how the role she's playing feels pretty lackadaisical or that she's merely playing "the girl," but it's worth noting that she does have a life outside of the main characters, as her home life and relationship with her family/faith is also discussed in the picture, so I'd say this is a definitive "yes."
Does It Pass the Bechdel Test?: It's questionable. McAdams' Sacha does have a conversation with her grandmother about her story, but her grandmother is never given a name other than "Nana" so I don't know that that counts under the rules of the Bechdel Test. You can decide in the comments below.
And speaking of, there are the eight Best Pictures. All-in-all, probably not where we'd need to go (it's still be nice to hit 50/50 and to have all passes for the Bechdel Test) but a decided improvement over last year. Share your thoughts on the Best Picture race and favorite female character moments in them below!