Promo still of Fire Island

Bechdel-Wallace Test Creator Adds Hyper-Specific Amendment After ‘Fire Island’ Debacle

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If you’re wondering who would see the gay Asian romance movie Fire Island and think it’s appropriate to bash it in the name of the Bechdel-Wallace test, we unfortunately have the answer. In now-deleted tweet, author and critic Hanna Rosin wrote, “So @Hulu #FireIslandMovie gets an F- on the Bechdel test in a whole new way. Do we just ignore the drab lesbian stereotypes bc cute gay Asian boys?” This prompted some understandable backlash, and now even an amendment to the “test” by its creator.

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Before even getting into the racial dynamics of that terrible take, let’s do a refresher on what the Bechdel-Wallace test (sometimes just called the Bechdel test) is. First appearing in the 1985 queer comic Dykes To Watch Out For, the test simply asks: Are there two or more women, with character names, in a movie? Do they speak with each other? Is this conversation about something other than a man? The test is just an interrogation of the lack of meaningful roles for women and points out that too many movies come with the same point of view—that being cisgender, straight, white, and male, though the “test” only deals with that equation in part.

panels from Bechdel Wallace test. Image: Alison Bechdel.
(Alison Bechdel)

Since then, many others have created their own that continue this conversation, especially in regards to elements of the story and taking the inclusion of all women into account, not just women in general, where white women tend to be the ones who benefit. These include the Mako Mori Test (2013), The Next Bechdel Test(s) (2017), and The Kent Test (2019). Many have been quick to point out that the Bechdel-Wallace test is not a marker for a good representation of women in media or what makes a good movie—it did originate as a barb in a comic intended to illustrate how women are treated on movies, not as something intended to be an in-depth, nuanced media critique. To weaponize this “test” against a story of queer men feels especially malicious and disingenuous because the comic was calling out lack of queer media representation.

Fellow TMS writer D.R. Medlen expanded upon this when she wrote, “[W]hite feminist film discourse has made it their primary litmus test. White feminism has a long history of making arguments about inclusion or visibility only if specifically white women are included—from first-wave feminism and its blatant racism to second-wave feminism and its exclusion of queer women (and racism), to this modern idea that media is not valid unless it passes an arbitrary test.”

https://twitter.com/ElloEllenOh/status/1534032112327835648?s=20&t=M7GeUZdaYTBv_k2zusDsyQ

This ordeal resulted in people just sharing jokes about how stories about gay men will never pass the Bechdel-Wallace test.

The Bechdel makes a statement

Despite many philosophies and frameworks that enter public discourse, the creator of the Bechdel-Wallace test (along with her friend Liz Wallace, who she credits with the idea) is still very much online and active. Alison Bechdel joined in to make a special amendment to this test so it could pass. Because two men are talking about a character in a book by Novel Prize-winning author Alice Munro, and Fire Island is based on one of the most famous novels written by a woman ever (a.k.a. Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice), it passes! While it doesn’t even matter if it passes one pithy line from a comic that was never intended to be used this way, it was really great that Bechdel did this. It also can serve as a reminder that she is aware of the good faith and bad faith elements of the Discourse™.

Rosin deletes her tweet and puts on DEI tint

After being dragged for hours, Rosin put out a statement:

I deleted a tweet that many of you rightly pointed out was offensive. I’ve read your responses and I hear you. My tweet was careless and thoughtless. Truly. The movie was telling a story about queer AAPI men, whose experiences don’t show up enough in movies or anywhere else. What I had to say was beside the point, not to mention a buzzkill on a fun summer movie. It’s a cliche but the fact that I didn’t see it coming means I have a lot to learn. The last thing I want to do is pit members of my community against each other. I sincerely apologize to those who were hurt by my words.

While she technically admitted to being rude and apologized, this felt a little close too close to an “I’m Sorry If Your Feelings Were Hurt” BLT for comfort. People are going to feel differently about it, but it felt like she really did check all the boxes for damage control, but only time will tell. Also, by going from “cute gay Asian boys” to “queer AAPI men,” she adjusted how she was talking about people of a different identity through a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens when she knew people were watching. There’s, of course, nothing inherently wrong with saying “cute gay Asian boys.” It even fits for a fun summer movie. However, it is wrong to do that in a mocking way, like they are a novelty.

If there’s any upside, it’s that this movie now has a bunch of positive press. I thought it was a reality dating show until last night. Now that I know it’s a Pride & Prejudice retelling, I’m already coordinating a watch party with my group chat.

(featured image: Hulu)

CORRECTION: Previous version stated she didn’t apologize, this was an oversight and has been updated to reflect the situation better.

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.