free guy… it really is about the guys

The smell of old popcorn, the comfortable but slightly questionable seats, the excitement of watching a movie in a real-life theatre for the first time in a long time. It all came together the week before our current lockdown – of course, we didn’t know at the time that the lockdown was looming. 

As dull as this is, I’m gonna start with a disclaimer. As some of y’all know, I work with the Pam Fergusson Charitable Trust, (or OMGTech! as most people know us as). We use a focus on digital technologies to look at societal equity. Specifically, my bit of the organisation operates in kura (schools), teaching our kaiako (teachers) nationwide how to teach digital technologies. 

I’ve been excited about the movie Free Guy for a while. I mean, where else will I be able to point to a mainstream movie to explain what a non-player character is. 

So this is a bit of a mixed review. My entire whānau actually cheered when Taika Waititi strode across the screen for the first time. Also, I was visibly shaking when I realised that the main woman character was not just an accessory. She had an interesting back-story and everything! 

Then, as we drove home, coming down from the excitement, I reflected back and thought about how it was disappointing that the movie didn’t even pass the Bechdel test. 

For the uninitiated, the Bechdel test started as a joke. Alison Bechdel put out this tongue-in-cheek comic strip in 1985, and it has three simple points.

The movie must have:

  • at least two named women
  • Who talk to each other
  • About something that isn’t a man

I mean, that’s why it’s a joke… the bar is so damn low. We are doing better, though, I think for a long time; not many movies at all passed the Bechdel, and in 2021, almost 70% did! 

I was so much more affected about Free Guy not passing the Bechdel because of what I do. The team at MYOB do an extensive survey looking at women in the technology sector. 57% of technology SMEs have a leadership comprised predominantly of men, and 46% of all women in the tech sector experience gender bias. We keep talking about how achieving gender diversity in our booming tech sector is a good thing. Yet, when our kids go to movies like Free Guy and see that all the women on the development floor seem to be in the design team. Or there aren’t even two women talking to each other in a techy film; well, that tells them another story.

I was having a kōrero about this with a good friend of mine. He is a man who works in tech and is widely thought-about as “one of the good ones”! I said that the character Mouser (played by the awesome Utkarsh Ambudkar) could have easily been a woman. He immediately balked at this and said no way. The banter between Mouser and Keys had to be between two guys; no one would believe crass banter from a woman. (For those that haven’t seen the movie yet, Mouser and Keys are both developers, they write the code that makes the game that the movie is about).

Therein lies the problem. When popular movies don’t depict women at all, it shows society that we are other. That we don’t belong in a high-stress dev environment having banter with our workmates. 

Please don’t read this whole review as negative; having a Māori man as the CEO of a tech company, having great racial diversity throughout the cast, having a woman lead character with an interesting back story. This all shows we’ve come so far. I’m just saying it’s 2021; we can nudge it a tiny bit more.

Movie Poster of Free Guy characters featuring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi and others