It Hurts: "Kill Bill" Passes "Swimmingly"

Curator's Note

First of all, let me put it out there: I am not really a film gal. I do watch movies and as a female writer I'm invested in how women are portrayed. Working in theater in Los Angeles, I'm active in promoting women playwrights and putting more women to work onstage and behind the scenes. So, yeah, I'm a feminist, but I'm no certainly no cinephile.

I was only recently introduced to The Bechdel Test as a meter for women's representation on screen. I love this test, mostly because of the surprises it uncovers - which titles pass, as well as the chatter amongst the rule-followers who administer it, true Bechdelian heroes (male and female).

Here's the particular surprise that struck me: the inclusion of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, with commentary that this shamelessly violent gore-fest passes "swimmingly."


I remember when the film first came out, being amused that Tarantino was labeled both a misogynist and a feminist. I didn't take the debate seriously, since here's my take on Kill Bill: This movie is ostensibly about women, but it's not about women. Because all of the women behave like men. (Or really, teenage boys.)

Now, I have nothing against action adventure flicks, or on screen violence, or the whole QT oeuvre. Fan of Pulp Fiction. Liked Reservoir Dogs, what I can remember. Have not seen Django Unchained. (Read: "I'm not really a film gal.")

But seeing the filmmaker get a pass to push Kill Bill down the "girl power" stream, even some 10 years later, kind of rankles me. Sorry. This is totally a man's movie where the central kick-ass characters happen to look like women, but that's as far as it goes. Everything they do, and everything they have experienced, comes from a man's mind. The outrageous world Tarantino has created is one where, quite simply, women become men.

Characters like The Bride, O-Ren Ishii and Gogo Ubari live in an interesting world. But do we really want - as Tarantino has suggested - to hold it up to teenage girls as an inspiration? Ouch!

Me, I'd rather see a movie with women who act and react like women. Although I don't mind if they kick some ass while they do.


The film I'm commenting on tomorrow also passes The Bechdel Test according to reviewers at But the scene that's mentioned first as the reason it passes doesn't sail through the Test when qualifiers are most "strictly" applied (e.g., a former boyfriend is mentioned and a relationship with a male colleague is discussed...for more, see Thursday's post.) We need screenplays that pass the Bechdel Test and then go "Beyond the Bechdel Test" in terms of delivering complex, authentic representations of women on screen. It's time! Has anyone written up criteria for female representation onscreen that builds on the Bechdel Test (from 1985), and calls for additional qualifications, perhaps 21st century specific ones? If you know of sources, please let us know in comments. Is someone working on "The Bechdel Test and Beyond?" If we could add additional components to The Bechdel Test to encourage more complex representations of women onscreen, what would those be? Could additional qualifications to the Test address the issue you discuss, Jennie--the male-authored female as mimetic reflection?

Not being beloved of tests or testing (or rules) in general, the deal for me is to take The Bechdel Test for what it is: a meter that gives us a new perspective. Right? I think the power of the Bechdel Test is in its simplicity. (And as I said, I'm fascinated by the debate over even this on the site!) But yes, I agree: "Beyond the Bechdel Test" is where it will get even more interesting! (Hmmm. Can we do that, and find a way to measure sans "test?")

Great piece on Tarantino! The thing about Tarantino is, he represents a new generation of young women--the girls doing kick boxing, karate, fencing, and shooting bullseyes at the gun club. I'm one of those "girls"--the first group to ride the first wave of feminism and read the female-centered storylines of X-Men, where both Storm and Mystique were created in much the same way, and in the same decade. In some ways, thinking women wouldn't do the sorts of things Uma Thurman's character manages to pull off, to be that tough, that strong--underestimates women in much the same way traditional hegemonic discourse does. We're not supposed to be decisive, aggressive or direct--we're supposed to be poised, graceful and polite. Personally, I prefer black leather to a pink tu-tu. And because of that, I've been in hostile hand-to-hand combat with a man twice my size...and walked away unscathed. Can't say the same for my attacker. The gentle woman is a myth created by patriarchy; I find it refreshing to have a man imagine women as something more...and Tarantino's self-made genre is a great medium to not only showcase women, but also, parody the absurdity of the performative.

Thanks for your comment, and your valuable perspective! And no, I don't think that a woman has to wear a tutu to act womanly, nor do I think wearing black leather or kicking ass makes her manly. For me, it's not about Uma Thurman's character managing to do things. It's about the thought process inside her head, which is - to me - that of a teenage boy, rather than an fully realized woman. So it goes deeper than what the characters do, it's why and how they do them, and the lack of substance there to psychologically hang onto, even as we enjoy the surreal spectacle and displays of prowess. My take and glad there are others. Love the work that you're doing; I'd put you in charge of girl power any day!

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