Diversity in the film and television industry is lacking. Despite the increased awareness of the need, inclusivity and fair representations of diverse characters is still scarce in entertainment.  Filmmakers and screenwriters understand why inclusivity is essential in filmmaking, but feel powerless.

But there is an answer to the diversity problem in filmmaking.  Using basic guidelines, you can make sure your film is forward-thinking. You can use your script breakdown and the rules of the Bechdel Test to determine whether you pass the test in the diversity department.

1

Don’t Matter If It’s Black or White

THE GRAY AREA

1.1 A PROBLEM LIKE DIVERSITY

The struggle is real

The issue of diversity continues to be a recurring theme in the entertainment industry.  

Though the visibility of the issue is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done.

The truth of the matter is that there are very few practical methods to measure diversity before films go into production.

Filmmakers and screenwriters need to go further than just being aware of the problem if there is to be any progress.

We must become more aware of the social benefits that come with more diverse stories.  

We also need to know that there are genuine financial incentives that come with inclusion.

It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex.

— Virginia Woolf

1.2 WHAT’S THE BECHDEL TEST?

The key to the puzzle

Even in 2018, so few onscreen stories actually rise to the ongoing challenge of inclusivity and fair representation.

In fact, out of the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014, only 30% had female speaking characters.

Consider that 50% of the population identifies as female.  Of those 30% speaking characters, only a fractional amount spoke to other females.  A fraction of that fraction talked about something other than a man.

This is where the Bechdel Test comes in.

BECHDEL TEST DEFINITION

What is a Bechdel Test?

The Bechdel Test is a measure of female representation in film and television that uses three criteria for evaluating the presence and visibility of strong female characterizations.  Created by Alison Bechdel in 1985, in the Lesbian-themed comic Dykes to Watch Out For, it was also known as the “Mo Movie Measure Test.”  The Bechdel Test offered a tongue-in-cheek look at modern storytelling practices with a pervasive problem that goes back hundreds of years. The issue of female representation was first observed in mainstream literature in an essay by Virginia Woolf in her 1929 essay, A Room Of One’s Own.

The Bechdel Test presents three questions:

  • Are there at least two named female characters? 
  • Do they speak to each other?
  • Do they speak to each other about something other than a man?

The test wasn’t so serious when first introduced.  But now, diversity is no laughing matter.

1.3 FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR DIVERSITY

Diversity wins the gold

Why is it important that writers and filmmakers include well rounded female characters?

There are tangible social and financial rewards for diversity.  

Social organizations acknowledge projects that meet diversity standards.  Some of them include the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Center for Asian American Media.  These acknowledgments become actual returns on investments at the box office.

Furthermore, it pays to measure the diversity of your script. Literally.

One of the foremost financial considerations includes the Screen Actors Guild’s Diversity Incentives.  There are significant increases in the union’s production cost maximums.

This means that the level at which you pay your actors, from movie stars to non-speaking extras, is on a different, less expensive tier from what would be appropriate for your budget.

SAG DIVERSITY INCENTIVES EXPLAINED

WHAT ARE THE SAG DIVERSITY INCENTIVES?

For productions with a minimum of 50% of the total speaking roles and 50% of the total days of employment are cast with performers who are members of the following four (4) protected groups: Women - Seniors - Performers with Disabilities - People of color

Modified Low Budget – from $700,000 to $1,050,000  

Low Budget                  – from $2,500,000 to $3,750,000

DAY RATE FOR MLB :  US$228       

DAY RATE FOR LB:      US$ 504

If you haven’t already, create a budget for your film.   

Apply the incentives from the Screen Actors Guild Diversity Incentives to see what you save by meeting the criteria of diversity.

States such as Illinois have Film Tax Credits that give money back to productions according to diversity.

These credits ensure that minorities represented in the state are represented in the commercial, television and film projects filmed there. Up to $100,000 per individual in your cast or on your crew.  See how much your budget is reduced when applying these credits.

The Bechdel Test can get you the Illinois Film Tax Credit

Another financial consideration is this: In 2013, films that passed the Bechdel Test earned nearly double the amount of those that did not.  

This is something to emphasize when insisting on the diversity of your cast.

As a producer, if you want to make adjustments to your project so that you receive the financial incentives, there is a way.  You use the Bechdel Test.

2

Break Down For What

PICKING YOUR SCRIPT APART FOR DIVERSITY

2. 1 TIME FOR A BREAKDOWN

Find your elements

The script breakdown identifies all the elements needed to prep, schedule, and budget a film production.

It also determines the technical and creative requirements for each department.

Some well-known uses of the breakdown include measuring the role of characters, the number of props, locations, and special effects.  

Importantly, any element of the screenplay that requires consideration can be calculated using your breakdown.  

Remember, elements of a breakdown usually include any object, person, place or process involved in bringing a script to life.  The elements are much easier to identify in the digital era.

A few years ago, filmmakers had to go through and mark and list all of the elements by hand, onto paper and later re-enter those elements into a separate spreadsheet.

Using production management software like StudioBinder has made the breakdown much more straightforward.  Here’s how it’s done:

Breakdowns shouldn’t give you a breakdown

You see where we’re going with this.  One of the best uses of your script breakdown is to measure diversity and inclusivity, as an element, then using the Bechdel criteria.  

2.2 DO IT FOR BECHDEL

Practice makes perfect

So let’s do it.  Let’s breakdown for the Bechdel.

Start by bringing your script into StudioBinder and adding a category to the elements:  Bechdel ✔

You can easily assign a specific color to your new category.  I think pink is in order here.

Now, focus on one element at a time rather than doing an all-encompassing breakdown.  It will help you keep your eye on the prize.

Now, tag your new elements according to the Bechdel ✔ qualifications:

Are there two or more females that have a name?

Do they speak to another female character?

Do they speak about something other than a man?

If they don’t meet any of the qualifications, don’t tag them.

The Bechdel Test explained like you’re five

It is as simple as that, and you will do this for every scene in the script.  You will have a very real assessment of how much screen time this element has.

When you finish the breakdown, you will have a full measure of the quality of the female presence.

2.3 TWO BECHDEL TEST TO GROW ON

Make more with your breakdown

Don’t stop at female visibility when union and state incentives include other marginalized groups. In fact, some variation of the Bechdel can be used for any group.

We showed how to use your breakdown to measure for what the Bechdel was first intended.  But as far as diversity goes, art should imitate life.

The Bechdel Test has expanded to include other minority groups.

The DuVernay Test

New York Times Film Critic Manohla Dargis suggests The DuVernay Test For People of Color (POC).  This one is named in homage to film director Ava DuVernay.

DuVernay talks diversity in film

The Vito Russo Test

GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) created The Vito Russo Test for the LGBTQ+ Community.  This test has questions regarding representations of this community growing in visibility.

Let’s use the same method of breakdown for these groups as we did for females.

Add your new category:  LGBTQ - People of Color (POC) - Seniors - Differently-abled Characters/Performers … or BECHDEL ✔

Give each category their own color and tag them as you would any other element.

Some of these test you’ll use have very specific applications, but I have found that the original questions will suffice. Only the subject will need a change.

Now, let’s re-frame the questions.

For people of color: Are there two or more POC that are named?

For the gay community: Do your two named LGBTQ characters speak to each other?

For every character: Do they speak to each other about something other than a male protagonist?

Let’s do this for every scene.  Now, how many ⅛’s of your script contain the elements specific colors?  There is your measure of diversity and inclusion.

2.4 WRITE FORWARD-THINKING

Write more than you know

Since we have talked about the financial benefits of including marginalized groups, it is essential to take a look at inclusivity in the stories we tell.

As a writer, the Bechdel Test is helpful to widen the tunnel vision that often accompanies the singular vision.  

For instance...

People over 65 years old, watch about 4 hours of television a day.  This is twice the average of the all-age group.

Also, seniors are the heroes of independent film in today’s marketplace.  Recently, they’ve shown up in droves to support films such as The Queen, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Grandma or Woman In Gold.
What is Bechdel Test - Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren helps pass the Bechdel Test

If seniors watch the most television and support films geared to them, it is a very good idea to write stories that appeal to this demographic.

By 2030 the senior population of the U.S. will reach 72 Million people.

Furthermore, in 2017 alone, products explicitly marketed to seniors had revenues of around 30 Billion dollars.

I think it’s time to start making sure that the script reflects the underrepresented demographic… and the money to be made.

So let’s add another group to the list for the Bechdel Test with the name of my favorite performer from the senior set.

The Betty White Test

We’ll name this test for the television legend and working nonagenarian Betty White. We can use it to get a sense of the visibility of senior characters and performers.

What is Bechdel Test - The Betty White

Try The Betty White - Bechdel Test

Remember, women over 40 often complain about the number of roles available to them.  Access to talent of a certain age may be easier than those dewy ingenues, and with fewer demands on the budget.

The Breakdown for the Bechdel is a clear and precise method for measuring whether or not the story you tell, and the characters that inhabit it, reflect the world we live in.

UP NEXT

How to Get Your Films Funded

If the idea of union and state tax incentives excite you, then you must be looking for funds.  Check out our comprehensive guide to film funding. We cover finding and applying for grants, fellowships, and labs that can be lucrative for filmmakers.

Up Next: How to Get Funding For Your Films →
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