‘Fire Island’ and the Bechdel Test: Turning the Debacle into a Learning Opportunity
Why Marvel has struck gold with Muslim superhero Ms Marvel
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🏆 The Headlines
‘Fire Island’ and the Bechdel Test: Turning the Debacle into a Learning Opportunity — A tweet criticized the gay Asian rom-com for failing to adequately represent women. Now what?
In the 2022 summery romantic comedy Fire Island, Joel Kim Booster might be ripped, but his gaysian take on Pride and Prejudice is hardly the type of patriarchal narrative Bechdel, Wallace and Woolf were attempting to challenge. Yet writer Hanna Rosin, a novelist and editorial director of New York Magazine‘s portfolio of podcasts, chose to apply the Bechdel test to the film and found it wanting: “So @hulu #FireIslandMovie gets an F- on the Bechdel test in a whole new way,” she wrote in a now-deleted tweet on Monday afternoon. “Do we just ignore the drab lesbian stereotypes bc cute gay Asian boys? Is this revenge for all those years of the gay boy best friend?”
The Bechdel test, as the three rules came to be known, has since entered the cultural vernacular as an earnest gauge of gender representation in media. It has spawned variants aiming to account for inclusion behind the scenes as well as intersectionally, sometimes getting extremely granular about stereotypes and tropes in depictions involving women (“one point if a sex scene shows foreplay before consummation”).
After the tweet was swiftly ratioed, Rosin apologized the next day, acknowledging, “The movie was telling a story about queer AAPI men, whose experiences don’t show up enough in movies or anywhere else.” But the initial impulse, as well as Rosin’s admission that she didn’t anticipate the pushback, still serves as a useful object lesson about how ideals about inclusion can be misapplied or even weaponized: Stories about one historically excluded identity do not have to be about all of them.
Why Marvel has struck gold with Muslim superhero Ms Marvel — As the new Disney+ series Ms Marvel launches, Mohammad Zaheer looks at how its reimagining of a pioneering comic book character is set to be a hit.
In 2013, when Marvel announced that they were reimagining the comic book character of Ms Marvel – originally a blonde superpowered military hero – as a Muslim Pakistani-US teenager called Kamala Khan, it was considered a controversial and risky proposition. Comic books, for the most part, have traditionally been male-dominated and white-centric – something Kamala was the antithesis of. Other attempts to diversify characters, such as creating a biracial Spiderman, had attracted backlash from some very vocal quarters of the fandom. In 2017, Marvel's vice president of sales stated that feedback from retailers indicated that readers were being alienated by the push for diversity. "What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity," he said. "They didn't want female characters out there. That's what we heard, whether we believe that or not."
Yet the performance of the Ms Marvel comic books demonstrated otherwise. "Ms Marvel almost immediately became a hit comic and one of the biggest sellers online," says Dr Mel Gibson, an associate professor at Northumbria University and a comics scholar. "It absolutely leapt in sales to what could be considered non-traditional comic book readers – such as females, Muslims, or Pakistani Americans for example. The idea of who reads comics and how they read them was changing. It helped draw in new folk and diversify the fan base."
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