The Mako Mori Test—A Good Alternative to Bechdel?

Hopefully you’ve all heard of the Bechdel test. For years it’s stood as shorthand for indicating that a movie does a decent job in representing both women and female relationships. If one said that a movie passed the Bechdel test, it meant that that movie: 1) had two named female characters who 2) talk to each other about 3) something other than a man.

But now, in the wake of Pacific Rim‘s enormous online success, there have been calls for a Pacific Rim-inspired feminist test to join the Bechdel test. The Mako Mori test, as defined by Tumblr user chaila, states:

The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. I think this is about as indicative of “feminism” (that is, minimally indicative, a pretty low bar) as the Bechdel test. It is a pretty basic test for the representation of women, as is the Bechdel test. It does not make a movie automatically feminist.

la_ca_0621_pacific_rimI’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I like the Mako Mori test as a way of acknowledging that there was at least one well-written female character in a movie, and it could in the future work as a second cousin to the Bechdel test by acknowledging that movies which don’t pass Bechdel nevertheless do have one female character who isn’t actively cringe-worthy. The Avengers, with Natasha Romanoff, is a good example of this. Actually, The Avengers had both Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury’s second-in-command, Maria Hill, as well as the inimitable Pepper Potts, but none of these characters talked to each other during the movie. Star Trek (2009) has Nyota Uhura, who’s a BAMF to be sure, but she’s the only female character in that movie by a long shot. I can’t remember if her green-skinned roommate was named in the movie, although she is named as Gaila in the credits. But, even if Gaila had been named in the movie, she and Uhura were only talking to each other while Uhura was undressing and Kirk was creeping on Uhura from underneath Gaila’s bed, so I wouldn’t really take theirs as a scintillating example of a female relationship. (That’s where the Bechdel test is inherently flawed: just any conversation between two women doesn’t automatically make the whole movie a paradigm of feminist success. But that’s a post for another time.)

Black_WidowOn the other hand, the Mako Mori test seems to me like we’re setting the bar too low. Why couldn’t Pacific Rim have passed the Bechdel test? Okay, so we knuckle under and agree that Raleigh and Yancy had to be straight white guys as the protagonists of a Hollywood film, but why couldn’t Saika’s favorite nerd pair, Hermann and Newt, have been bickering female scientists? Why couldn’t Herc and Chuck Hansen have been a mother-daughter pilot team? Either scenario would have swept Pacific Rim into the annals of passing-Bechdel-test history and wouldn’t have changed the plot in the slightest, unless one thinks women can’t do science or fight kaiju. Similarly, The Avengers could have had more than one female Avenger (I mean, She-Hulk and the Wasp actually exist in comics) and literally anyone on the bridge of the Enterprise (Sulu, Chekov, Spock, anyone) could have been female. (It’s possible that Spock was actually female in Roddenberry’s first drafts. Make of that what you will.)

So, I personally think the Mako Mori test should exist as a sort of understudy to the Bechdel test, but what do you all think of it? Let me know in the comments.

5 thoughts on “The Mako Mori Test—A Good Alternative to Bechdel?

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  2. You could also have a movie that passes the Bechdel test but not the Mako Mori test. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, though, so maybe the Mako Mori test is weaker.

    I don’t think the Bechdel test is fundamentally flawed–it’s just not a metric of feminism and a very approximate metric of female relationships. But it’s more than just a measure of representation–it’s asking whether interactions between women are seen as important enough to be portrayed.

    I agree that Pacific Rim failed miserably at representing female characters, and having the token be one of the leads doesn’t fix that. I’m also pretty sure that the casting decisions were made because the director thinks men are more “relatable” than women. This from wikipedia: “On casting Hunnam, del Toro stated: “I saw him and I thought he had an earnest, really honest nature. And he was the kind of guy that I can relate, as a male audience member I go, ‘I like that guy. I would like to have a few beers with that guy’ … he has an earthy quality.””

    That logic would explain the casting of the majority of the characters pretty well. And Raleigh is a pretty stereotypical cocky, exceptionally talented white male action lead and ends up being the one to seize the final amazing victory, not Mako, who has to wait/cry for him at the end, so I don’t get the idea that Pacific Rim is so feminist on that front either.

    I watched this with a friend, a fellow American whose parents are from El Salvador and loves the movie but had complained to me in the past about sci-fi almost never having Hispanic characters. We talked about Pacific Rim’s lack of representation among nationalities–obviously a deliberately dropped ball here, too, given that it’s a move about an international effort to protect humanity set in Hong Kong, yet all the major characters except Mako are native English speakers from English-speaking countries. They’re all white except for the major. The Russian and the Chinese jaeger teams get killed off super-early and without speaking roles that I remember, and the Chinese team is a horrible stereotype: triplets without distinguishing features, tying into the scared Western view of the Chinese as a collective mass. I remember reading a listing of old Marvel or DC characters that included a Chinese Communist-themed superhero (villain?) whose power was to split into triplets. Not cool that we’re still doing that. IMO the Russians seemed cool and I’d have preferred them living and taking the Australians’ roles (and then maybe the sister could have had a conversation with Mako!), but given that they’re muscly blonde super-soldier types, they’re ALSO a Cold War stereotype. The complete lack of any Hispanic characters at all is particularly odd given that the director is Mexican and there are, you know, a few Spanish-speaking countries with Pacific coasts (at least 12).

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