Sofia Coppola Learns What The Bechdel Test Is During An Interview

"The what test?"

OK, so: Sofia Coppola is currently being congratulated in film circles for her reworking of 1971’s Clint Eastwood vehicle “The Beguiled,” told from a female-centric point of view at a moment in moviemaking history when female-centric points of view, although still few and far between, are being championed for the cause of gender equality in male-dominated Hollywood. 

So when a reporter for GQ asked the director about the Bechdel test, the feminist litmus test for film, her response was, in a word, confusing. 

“The what test?” Coppola said. The reporter repeated the name. 

“I’ve never heard of that. What’s that?”

Because gender equality can be tough to conclusively measure, one of the ways critics have done so is through the Bechdel test, which asks two simple questions: Do two women characters have names? And do they speak to each other about something other than a man? The idea represents some of the work that won creator Alison Bechdel, an American cartoonist, the MacArthur “genius” grant in 2014. If you’ve paid attention to entertainment journalism in the past five years, you’ve probably run across the term more than once. 

And if you, like Sofia Coppola, have made several films starring women and telling women’s stories, one would think you’d have used it yourself. 

“Oh, I guess I’ve never studied film,” Coppola replied. “That’s so funny, but there are a lot of women talking about a man in this.” (There are, indeed, lots of women talking about a man ― a wounded Union soldier played by Colin Farrell ― but according to Vulture, it does pass.)

Actors Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, director Sofia Coppola and actor Kirsten Dunst attend the premiere of Focus Features' 'Th
Actors Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, director Sofia Coppola and actor Kirsten Dunst attend the premiere of Focus Features' 'The Beguiled' at Directors Guild Of America on June 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Although the film has been hailed for a progressive cause, Coppola has also been the target of criticism over her subjects: women, yes, but only extremely pale types. Her response to a BuzzFeed question about why she didn’t include a black woman character present in both the source material and the 1971 version of “The Beguiled” also drew some criticism over erasure

While the director may be currently enjoying broader acclaim for her most recent cinematic contribution to feminism, we hope she knows it’s never too late to learn a few things. 

“The Beguiled” hits theaters Friday. 

Clarification: Language has been amended to reflect that Bechdel’s idea for the test was not the sole reason for her 2014 MacArthur grant.

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