Actress Emily Blunt, woman with dark hair and fair skin standing in the open air of a crime scene in the desert, and wearing FBI gear

Spoiler Alert: “Sicario” fails the Bechdel test…by a lot

This post contains information and spoilers about the film Sicario.

It is a well-documented fact that I love movies. I love writing about movies and talking about them, and I’ll be honest, most of the time I criticize films based on a lack of representation and otherwise gender-based fuckery. So clearly, I needed to see Sicario, the new thriller featuring Emily Blunt (yes, Emily Blunt). An action film with a female lead? Sign me up.

Sicario follows the tale of FBI agent Kate Macer as she joins an elite taskforce working in the increasing gray zone covering the border areas of the U.S. and Mexico. For much of the movie, Macer attempts to figure out what she is doing in that space, be productive, and catch the bad guys, when it isn’t entirely clear who the bad guys are. In the end, Sicario is more of a gritty drama than an action flick.

Here’s the deal with Sicario: A lot of the attention swirling around it has centered on the feminist leanings of the film. This is mostly because, well, Emily Blunt is the lead, and women being the face of “action movies” doesn’t really happen. Besides casting Blunt, the production of the film does display some feminist thought. Blunt did, in fact, veto a nude scene, and the film did withstand a moment of gross sexism where a potential investor wanted Blunt’s character to be rewritten. Blunt’s character, however, is the only meaningful role given to a woman, which means Sicario bombs the Bechdel Test.

Hollywood failing the Bechdel Test, and otherwise sucking at diversity, is, unfortunately, nothing new. What is frustrating about Sicario is that since the film features a woman in a prominent position, I want to be a big fan. And it’s a good film! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, gripping my cup so tightly that I nearly crushed it. But aside from Blunt’s presence, there is very little about Sicario that can be construed as feminist.

While I was hoping for more of an ass-kicking presence from Blunt, the writing reduces her character Macer to looking like a deer in headlights without much of a purpose. It is also riddled with uncomfortable moments in gender politics, including Macer being condescended to on a regular basis and saved from a bad guy. Not to mention the use of the “boys” every other sentence to describe the group despite Macer’s presence.

It could be argued that the film was just realistically portraying the kind of male bullying and lack of support that many women feel in professions dominated by men. On one hand, I appreciate seeing that depicted, but on the other, the manner in which the film is presented requires too much intellectual lift from the audience. I might be able to make the argument for a slightly more feminist read, but I have to work really hard, and honestly, I’m tired.

In 2015, no film should fail the Bechdel Test, especially one that features a woman so prominently. It shouldn’t be an intellectual exercise to find a feminist read of a film, and frankly, I’m more than a little disappointed with Sicario in that sense. I hoped for more and expected more.

Header image credit: Geek Tyrant


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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