The Wolf of Wall Street Failed the Bechdel Test Spectacularly. And That’s a Problem.

This post contains minor spoilers, though nothing in the movie was particularly surprising, so I think if you read this and then see the movie, you will not be upset.

Wolf of Wall Street Movie Poster

Oh Leo. Remember when you were a 90’s heartthrob?

To say that The Wolf of Wall Street fails the Bechdel test is a massive understatement. Women are almost all objectified, evaluated for their beauty and willingness to sell sex. The firm has some women too, but there is only a single actual mention of them outside of aforementioned objectifying. (I get distracted by things like this in movies, I kept trying to figure out why they wouldn’t all sue for sexual harassment/hostile workplace and then trying to figure out if that was even an option at the time, and then I think money. Tons and tons of money, which in this movie buys all other morals and solves most problems (see above, re: buying sex)).

Now, I understand that that is the point of the movie, and that you weren’t supposed to like the characters who were doing the objectifying, buying of sex, harassing, and, in one case, raping. BUT the movie was three hours long and the comeuppance (which also included some long-overdue sticking-up-for-herself from Jordan Belfort’s wife, Naomi (and some excellent acting from Margot Robbie)) takes place in less than an hour. And, it doesn’t seem to hurt Belfort all that much.

So, we are supposed to sit through three hours of movie with Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and come out saying, “God, what a sleaze ball.” Maybe we are also supposed to question the morals of Wall Street altogether (but haven’t we already done that?). But, when you spend three hours with a guy, and sometimes he’s funny, and sometimes you laugh with him, and sometimes you laugh at him, probably the directors wanted us to feel something for him other than hate? Maybe?

And, some people in the theater certainly did. For example, there is a scene where a night of debauchery that costs Belfort $2 million dollars ends with furniture destroyed and prostitutes and stockbrokers  asleep on basically every surface in a Las Vegas suite. Belfort walks through the room, uncovers a sleeping, naked prostitute, and squeezes her breast.

The guy sitting behind me in the movie theater (and presumably a few other people at least) laughed.

OK. I don’t even know what laughing man looks like, let alone what his morals are. Giving him full benefit of the doubt, let’s say he’d never in a million years engage a prostititute, and if he did, he would only do things she explicitly consented to. But he laughed, as in, haha, squeezing a breast.

The movie is set up in a way where the antihero sort of becomes the hero. Other than the prostitutes, a few of the wives, and one or two of the female employees, we don’t ever meet any of Belfort’s victims–the people he stole massive amounts of money from. His crimes are not victimless, but they kind of seem like they are. The Wall Street guys are supposed to be some strange combination of nebby and glamourous, and the Feds are just supposed to be angry and nebby.

Movies are entertainment, right? Escapes? And so the moral of a movie which is almost 100 percent about debauchery, is “imagine this life, where you can do anything you want. Sure, he’s sleazy, but look at all the sex he gets to have.”

And if we start laughing with him, instead of at him, isn’t the movie just glorifying it? Saying, “come along while we objectify and assault?” And isn’t that a problem? Isn’t that part of the culture that lead a man just the other night to grab my friend’s breast, and when she said, “did you just grab my breast?” he leered, “and I liked it,” and then just walked off?

Isn’t that why we should be talking about the Bechdel test even in a movie that didn’t even walk into the right testing center?

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