The Planet Test

In 1985 a comic strip by Alison Bechdel had two characters discuss going to the cinema. One explains she only goes see a movie if:

  1. The movie has at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

The horribly low bar of the test was part of Bechdel’s satire, especially as her two characters couldn’t find anything to watch that evening.

But since the original joke, the Bechdel Test has slipped into entertainment lore (possibly reinforcing the satire). It’s been applied to children’s TV, journalism, and even computer programming.

It even entered the Oxford English Dictionary this year, the definition being ‘an informal method of evaluating whether or not a film or other fictional work portrays women in a way that marginalizes them or which exhibits sexism or gender stereotyping.’

It’s far from perfect, but considering that only 57% of films pass it, it’s still scarily relevant.

Which got us thinking. Futerra has started a partnership with Albert (the environmental sustainability project of The British Academy of Film and Television Arts better known as BAFTA). Together we’re working on guidance for broadcasters, producers and the entire film and TV industry on incorporating sustainability into programmes and films.

For fun, we asked ourselves, what could be the Bechdel test for environmental sustainability? After hundreds of post-its and some quite complex ideas, we’ve settled on the same formula as Alison Bechdel did – the lowest bar possible.

A TV programme or Film would only pass The Planet Test if:

  1. It acknowledges the natural world actually exists
  2. Negative environmental behaviours are shown as negative character traits
  3. One person does something at least once to make the world a better place

Obviously, anything with David Attenborough automatically passes. With special mention for Grand Designs and Doctor Who. Some James Bond movies have passed at least criteria 2 and the Octonauts are out there saving the ocean.

Black Mirror definitely passes 1 and 2 although rarely 3.

What else? We’re looking for nominations!


Written by Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, and Aaron Matthews, Head of Industry Sustainability of BAFTA

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