How To Test Your Script For Gender Inclusion

When you look at the most recent Academy Awards for gender inclusion, it is surprising that of the non-acting categories, only twenty percent of the nominees are women. A balanced view of equality is something audiences support. People want to see a reflection of their world in the world you are creating.

I know the story is king. Your film must be made with artistic integrity. So I’m not asking you to write or create something outside the world of what you know. But no matter where you are in your filmmaking process, you have the opportunity to find ways to engage a broader audience truthfully. Maybe even in a seamless way? And it starts by testing your script!

Gender Inclusion Screenwriting


When it comes to gender inclusion, there are some tests you can apply during writing and development. If your script does not pass one of these tests, you will need to figure out why. Is there a justifiable reason the script fails?

While not every script is flexible, defending your position before you make the movie can save a lot of criticism later. Critics can move the conversation from quality and content to controversy in a single news cycle. Below are some of the things critics consider when they evaluate inclusion.

  • The Bechdel Test: Critics widely use this to assess gender inclusion in movies. Filmmakers can ‘pass the test’ by meeting three guidelines: The film has at least two women talking to each other about something besides a man.
  • The Mako Mori Test: A Sci-Fi fan on Tumblr recommended a new test to account for the character “Mako Mori” in the blockbuster Pacific Rim:  At least one female character, who gets her narrative arc, that is not about supporting a man’s story.
  • The Sphinx Test: In response to limited roles written for women in the theater in 2014, a series of 4 questions were developed by The Sphinx Theater company in London to encourage theatre-makers to establish a new standard:  How prominently female characters feature in action, whether they are proactive or reactive, whether the character avoids stereotype, and how the character interacts with other women.
  • The Vito Russo Test: Named for GLAAD co-founder & famed film historian, was developed to encourage a more significant number of films to analyze the way LGBT characters are represented:  Character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), not solely or predominantly be defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e., the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another), & must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.
  • The Shukla Test: This test was developed in response to the lack of diversity in the film- noting that people of color can be more than a general representation of their heritage. Nikesh Shukla coined an alternative name, “The Apu Test,” to help widen the roles given to minorities: Two ethnic minorities talk to each other for more than five minutes about something other than race.
  • The Sexy Lamp Test: And finally, this one NEEDS to be considered for apparent reasons… Created by comic book writer and editor Kelly Sue DeConnick“If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft. They have to be protagonists, not devices.”

Gender Inclusion Casting

Gender inclusion is also essential in casting. A representative of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media spoke about casting considerations on a film festival panel. Cast 50% of “the room” as female. Try it in situations where a character can be changed to a woman.

Take out Typical Descriptions (keep role descriptions to include only character traits that are vital to the role). Consider other under-represented markets (if characters can reasonably be over 55 and be shaped like an average American or even heavy-set, please ask your casting director to consider finding under-represented actors to come read for the roles).

Regarding gender inclusion, one of the best parts of filmmaking is creating teams of personalities with which you get to work and play all day long–like a day camp for artists and engineers!

One way to enhance the process is to interview three new people for EVERY position before hiring. Look at a database consisting entirely of women. Hire to fill assistant jobs out of local film schools. This keeps your set focused on doing things by the book and brings new voices to the table.

None of this happens by chance. Let’s work towards balance – One movie at a time.

Jennica Schwartzman, a member of The Producer’s Guild of America, is an actress, writer, and producer who loves taking a project from idea to distribution. She works alongside her husband and business partner, Ryan Schwartzman, also known for his legendary movie-night cuddles. Follow JennicaRenee and PurposePictures.

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