Diversity in the entertainment industry is very important. You can test the level of diversity in your own content, and we’re going to show you how.
Using basic guidelines, you can make sure your content is forward-thinking. You can use your script breakdown and the rules of the Bechdel Test to determine the level of diversity in the actual content you hope to create.
DIVERSITY IS STRENGTH
Diversity in entertainment
1.1 ENTERTAINMENT DIVERSITY
Diversity in entertainment
You want your content to be diverse. It helps your content be more marketable, more thoughtful, more effective, and more inclusive.
The push for diversity, both behind the camera and in front of the camera, has become an important issue for the vast majority of production companies and content creators in the modern age.
Even with all of the support, you will still find some bias, intentional or otherwise, that exists inside an otherwise modern story.
We're going to show you how to test your own content.
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?
How diverse is your content?
Even though it has improved, very few onscreen stories actually rise to the ongoing challenge of inclusivity and equal representation.
Below are the key findings from a study conducted by Dr. Stacy L Smith and her team over at the USC Annenburg school of journalism.
As you can see, out of the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014, only 30% had female speaking characters. 50% of the population identifies as female.
Of those 30% speaking characters, only a fraction spoke to other females.
A fraction of that fraction talked about something other than a man.
Enter: The Bechdel Test
BECHDEL TEST DEFINITION
What is a Bechdel Test?
Created by Alison Bechdel in 1985, 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.
There are variations of the Bechdel Test for other protected groups, such as the DuVernay Test, and the Vito Russo Test.
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 male "love" interest?
While the test was created to test the gender imbalance, you can apply these same questions to any category you wish.
1.3 FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR DIVERSITY
Diversity wins the gold
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.
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?
A minimum of 50% of the total speaking roles and 50% of the total days of employment are cast with performers in the following four (4) protected groups:
- Performers w Disabilities
- People of color
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.
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.
TEST YOUR DIVERSITY LEVEL
2.1 SCRIPT BREAKDOWN
Find your scene 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. Using has made the breakdown much more straightforward.
Here’s how it’s done:
One of the best uses of your script breakdown is to measure diversity and inclusivity, as an element, then using the Bechdel criteria.
StudioBinder's breakdown software allows you to create custom element categories so you can tag scenes with Bechdel benchmarks. Afterwards you can view your breakdown reports to get a birds-eye-view if a particular scene is Bechdel-friendly.
2.2 BECHDEL TEST
Bechdel test breakdown in action
So let’s do it. Let’s breakdown for the Bechdel.
Start by adding a category to the elements:
You can easily assign a specific color to your new category.
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 Test 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.
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 OTHER DIVERSITY TESTS
Additional diversity tests
Apply this same test to any of the SAG protected groups mentioned above. Create new custom categories for each, and see how your script stands up to four separate diversity tests - that way you can see if there is an area of underrepresentation toward one particular group.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 seniors.
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.
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.