In the midst of all of the increased negativity surrounding the misrepresentation of female characters in the entertainment industry recently, it’s become popular to complain and argue about how unfairly women are portrayed in mainstream entertainment. While this point of constructive criticism may be irrefutably valid, it’s easy to forget that there are a number of exceptional portrayals of strong female characters in the mainstream media that sadly go unrecognized.
I’m a generally optimistic person, and I believe that if we spend less time complaining about the movies that do female characters wrong and more time praising those that do it right, we’ll be more likely to receive a better quantity and quality of female characters in the future. The character of Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi in Guillermo del Toro’s epic childhood fantasy come to life Pacific Rim) is one of the most mature, intelligent, and socially progressive approaches to writing a female character seen in the past number of years.
Even though the main character is a white dude, the character in the film that is given the most personality, character development, backstory, and pivotal role in saving the day is played by an Asian female — and never once is she treated as a stereotype. There’s no moment where someone says, “Mako, you can’t be a Jaeger pilot, you’re a girl,” or some other stupid sexist remark.
“Mako, you can’t use the sword — oh, wait…”
Also, despite the fact that Rinko Kikuchi is an undeniably attractive woman, Mako is never objectified in the film at all, whether it be by any of the other characters or the filmmakers. Most surprising of all, they never resort to turning her into a love interest for leading white guy Raleigh. There’s a bit of awkward sexual tension between the two, but they never officially end up together or even share a kiss on screen, which defies the traditional storytelling trope you would expect.
Outside of the overall embodiment of Mako Mori and how she is treated in the film, she is also given what could be considered many fans’ favorite scene in the film: the reveal of Gipsy Danger’s sword and the killing of Otachi. On the Blu-Ray audio commentary, Guillermo del Toro stated that he purposefully intended to give the biggest “wow moment” of the film to the female character because this would normally be given to the male lead in a movie like this.
Beyond Mako, Pacific Rim manages to sprinkle in a few other subtleties that enforce feminist positivity as well. Del Toro also says in the commentary that the Jaeger pilot in control of the right hemisphere of the Jaeger is referred to as the “dominant pilot.” In the case of Russia’s Jaegar, the dominant pilot in Cherno Alpha’s husband-and-wife pilot duo Sasha and Aleksis Kaidonovsky is the female. Despite the fact that the two barely have any dialogue or screen time, this one miniscule detail creates a world in which a female is given the power to have dominance in the military — without having it be considered taboo or out of the ordinary.
But despite being such a positive representation of feminism in film, Pacific Rim has largely been dismissed from the conversation solely because it does not pass the infamous Bechdel Test, which — for better or worse — has become the defining factor of whether or not a film is considered “feminist” in the mainstream.
While the Bechdel Test has become the biggest staple for recognizing feminist representation in film, it is undeniably flawed due to the fact that movies with poorly conceived, one-dimensional notions of female characters like What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Sex and the City could pass it, yet movies with great female characters like Pacific Rim can’t. Shortly after Pacific Rim was released in theaters, The Daily Dot wrote a story about a Tumblr user who proposed an alternative called The Mako Mori Test to “live alongside the Bechdel Test.” The basic requirements for passing are:
- Have at least one female character
- who is given her own narrative arc
- that isn’t about supporting a man’s narrative arc.
As I thought about the requirements for passing this test, I compiled a short list of some other female characters in recent mainstream Hollywood films that pass the Mako Mori Test without question:
- Black Widow (The Avengers/Captain America:The Winter Soldier)
- Mystique (X-Men: Days of Future Past)
- Gamora (Guardians of the Galaxy)
- Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
- Ryan Stone (Gravity)
- Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
- Hit-Girl (Kick-Ass)
- Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)
- Catwoman (The Dark Knight Rises)
- Cassandra Anderson (Dredd)
- M (Skyfall)
“I don’t pass the Bechdel Test? No problem!”
I’m not saying that the Mako Mori Test is a more efficient way of judging feminism in film than the Bechdel Test or vice versa. I’m only suggesting that there is more than one method for measuring the quality of feminist representation in film, and we should be open to the idea of accepting all of them if we want better female characters in the future. Just because a movie is about giant robots punching alien monsters in the face doesn’t mean that it can’t have just as many positive themes as an “important” movie.
Article by contributor Mike Pisacano.