Suspending your disbelief for a movie in which only white guys are interesting

In following references to this website to see what’s being said about us, I came across Joseph Childers’ article, How the Bechdel Test could save the Oscars. Here’s an excerpt, in which he’s referring to the Bechdel test and Deggan’s Rule:

Now it would seem, as a white man, I’m not personally injured by the failure of most movies to pass either of these tests. Our stories are being told, our concerns are being addressed, our grievances are being aired; all is well in White Boy Town. But that is not so. First off, any group that only hears it own stories is not getting the full story. Surrounded by only look-and-think-alikes, it becomes impossible not to become parochial and stagnant. After all, one of the main social benefits of fiction is the encouragement of empathy, and these narrow narratives deny us its full expression.

But as much social harm as excluding half the population from being fully realized fictional characters does, I’d say it does even greater damage to movies as an art form. Think about it. Any screenwriter/director/producer that can’t think of anything more for a woman to do than be a girlfriend, wife, mother, or kidnapped daughter is probably going to lack imagination in other areas as well. A filmmaker who only sees minorities as Issues or wacky sidekicks is, more likely than not, a hack.

We’ve talked around here about the fact that a movie with 99% white guys and a couple of token “otherwise” people who only show up to get killed or talk about How Hard It Is Not To Be A White Guy or How Much I Love That White Guy doesn’t reflect reality at all. It’s extremely rare to find yourself in a situation that’s stocked almost exclusively with white guys, right? Just doesn’t happen.

I say “reflect reality” because we all know movies shouldn’t mimic reality. You can go to a mall for free and watch all the reality you want. No, movies are supposed to show us a more interesting version of real life. This is why they can’t flagrantly ignore reality. They can’t have one bullet inexplicably fell two people on opposite sides of the screen. They can’t have a human fly across the screen without telling us how and why. They have to reflect the mundane reality we all live with every day, and persuade us that their reality – in which magic bullets and flying people exist – is plausible.

So why is it we would get angry at filmmakers who gave us magic bullets without explanation and expected us to buy their crap, but we humbly accept All White Male environments, or environments in which everyone but the White Guys has only one personality trait? Is this a more interesting version of reality than the reality most of us live in, which is stocked with people of color and women who are as varied and interesting as the white men who make up the rest of the group? No. It’s goddamn boring, and if you argue otherwise, you’re saying that only white men are interesting to you, which would be sad and pathetic of you.


  1. Anemone says

    Nice article. The word is getting out! Clueless comments from one person, though. *Sigh*

    What you said about movies not reflecting the real world got me thinking about a recent blowup I had (ok, I think about it a lot right now) where I was criticized for criticizing the all-male culture of a local parkour organization, in which the members, mostly white and almost entirely male, really don’t seem to care if they exclude women. I wish all these stories that don’t pass the Bechdel test weren’t so realistic in some circles.

  2. says

    I wish all these stories that don’t pass the Bechdel test weren’t so realistic in some circles.

    Yes, but when those guys leave that place, they venture into a world where there are women and other so-called “minorities” working all sorts of jobs, hanging out in coffee shops, etc. Almost all the formerly White Guys Only milieus have broadened their horizons in recent years. And yet, movies still frequently play to those tiny parts of our culture where it’s still Mostly White Guys?

    I know the “Threatened By Anyone Who’s Not Just Like Me” club membership is still strong in numbers, but it’s not just white men. Loads of people harbor -isms and -phobias, so where are all the movies stocked almost completely by women (chick flicks don’t count) or people of color or disabled people or gay people, in which the two characters from outside their group only show up to get killed, be comic relief, or give somebody some lovin’?

    Or why not just play to the common denominator, which – especially if you’re focused on today’s young adults, as I thought the market always was – seems to be people who are used to running into All Sorts of Folks everywhere they go and don’t really think twice about demographics when they go about the business of getting along with others?

  3. Anemone says

    I think it depends on whether studios are thinking of 15-year-olds or 25-year-olds when they think of young audiences. I would expect the average 25-year-old to be much more aware of the diversity out there, especially compared to a 15-year-old still stuck in suburbia.

  4. says

    Traditionally, the all-important demographic was “18-25 year old urban white males.” Particularly if you are “urban” in the US, you are constantly being exposed to women and people of color who are working and enjoying the same recreations as white men. I don’t know of anywhere in L.A. I could go where I would find a mostly white male crowd. Even UCLA’s film courses always had a decent percentage of women and people of color.

    So either this isn’t really the demographic they’re after, or they have a very confused understanding of that demographic’s experience. I think the latter is likely, because part of the reason that demographic goes to the movies is because it’s fun. The movie doesn’t always matter to them as much as the experience of sitting in a theater and being transported through sensory deprivation. Therefore it’s not so easy to know if you’re really deeply satisfying them (what Hollywood assumes as long as tickets sell) or just not pissing them off so badly they’d rather pick some other form of entertainment over movies altogether.

  5. SunlessNick says

    One commenter, Anne Smith, made a nice point: “Yeah but formulaic movies suck. People only see them because they’re given so few alternatives.”

  6. SunlessNick says

    Copying error. The point I was trying to refer to, still by Anne Smith, was: “Besides, I thought film-makers were supposed to be artists. What good is an artist who can only do paint-by-numbers?”

  7. says

    just found this website a few weeks ago and i find it absolutely fascinating—the bechdel-test thing confirms what i’ve always known—hollywood actively suppresses females in lead roles, or puts female leads in horrific “chick flicks”—one thing in particular that really gets under my skin is the relentless pushing of the sexual double standard on TV—what really kills me is they actually think they’re being subtle

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