We have ratings for violence in film—now Sweden is rolling out a rating system for movies’ gender bias.
With the support of the Swedish Film Institute, four cinemas launched the effort to give films an “A” stamp of approval if they pass the Bechdel test.
Named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, movies that pass the Bechdel test must have two named female characters who talk to each other at least once about something other than a man. Since only about a third of top-grossing movie characters are female, a disappointing number of films fail the Bechdel test—including, for example, all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When standing outside a theater trying to decide what movie to see, it would be nice to know which films will be completely devoid of women. A giant “A” stuck on the movie poster could help me, at least, make up my mind about what movie will be worth my money.
Of course, the Bechdel test is not flawless system for determining whether a film is exclusively male-focused. Gravity, for example, fails the Bechdel test, even though it centers on a complex female protagonist. But the test is a good way to draw attention to the lack of female characters and female-driven storylines in mainstream cinema.
“For some people it has been an eye-opener,” Swedish art house theater director Ellen Tejle told the Associated Press. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens.”
When thinking about why so many popular films fail at including even two real female characters, it’s worth looking at who is working behind the scenes in the film industry. Across the board, the industry is male-dominated.
According to a depressing pile of reports from the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, women comprised only 18 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012—that’s up only one percent since 1998. Meanwhile, men also wrote 82 percent of film reviews. If we were to grade the mainstream film world on whether it includes women, the whole industry would get an F.
Related Reading: Why don’t more female-directed films get nominated for Oscars?