As the movie began I stared in shock. It appeared to be passing the Bechdel Test in the opening scene! Tick! Wonderful!
But that really was it; and it wasn't that great.
Dawn of the Dead begins with Francine (Gaylen Ross) curled up in a corner having a nightmare. As she murmurs in her sleep, a male colleague shakes her awake and asks if she is alright. She replies in the affirmative, while a female colleague sits up from her slumber too.
"I'm still dreaming."
"No, you're not." Francine grimly tells her. Woot! A Bechdel Test pass right there, in that tiny exchange. But there's more!
The scene shifts to the doorway, where there's chaos with people bustling in and out of the tiny booth-like room. We learn that this is a television studio, but everyone seems to be talking at once. They are on air, but all professionalism has been blown in anger and hysteria.
A second female colleague squeezes through the door to hand Francine a drink.
She imparts news on the current situation, "The guys in the crew are going crazy. Couple of them flown the coop already. I don't know how long we're going to stay on the air."
Francine just pats her arm and walks on through into the melee. All of this was in the first 57 seconds of the movie. Francine never talks to another woman again. But films have passed the Bechdel Test on less.
George A. Romero came under some serious criticism for his portrayal of women in Night of the Living Dead. This was at the height of the Women's Lib movement and his classic became a kind of by-word for Hollywood's disdain for females. He had to do better here, and he really tried.
But there's a problem. The Bechdel Test evaluates the representation of female characters based upon three criteria. They have to have a conversation (which occurs here), which isn't about male characters (which also occurs here, though more so with the 'dream' exchange than the latter).
It also has to have more than one named female character. Francine is named, but who are those colleagues? They are not named.
Feminist issues are apparent, in a scene slotted about halfway into the movie. Francine ironically tells the returning men that, "I would have made you breakfast, but I don't have any of my pots and pans."
They ignore her. Just faint smiles of acknowledgement, without really looking up. Then she lets rip with beautiful assertiveness. "I'm not going to be den mother for you guys," Francine affirms, before making it clear that they are not to make any more plans without consulting her too. They'd already done that several times, each with a marked lack of common sense.
Then she messes it up by apologizing for her stand to her boyfriend.
Later, she demands, and is given, a gun to defend herself. She wryly quips that she'll try to work out how to use it. A scene later, she proves that she's been a sharp-shooter all along. They really shouldn't have side-lined her for her gender.
Yet there were other scenes which seriously made me cringe. News about her pregnancy is greeted with a discussion about its abortion. The question is asked of her boyfriend, without Francine even being addressed. Though the unacceptable nature of that was covered in the movie.
What was played straight was her boyfriend discovering her in the toilet, wracked with morning sickness. "Leave me alone, it's my problem!" Francine groans. He hesitates. "I just don't want you to see me like this, okay?"
Given that they're stuck behind a barricade with zombies surrounding them, then perhaps a pregnancy wasn't ideal. But to have it repeatedly referred as a 'problem' and implying that it made Francine somehow ugly wasn't great.