Swedish Cinema Stands Against Sexism – Bechdel Test Rating Introduced


A new rating system introduced in Sweden will see movies graded based on gender representation using the Bechdel Test, an assessment method devised in 1985 to challenge the film industry’s gender bias.

Initially put forward by the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her Dykes To Watch Out For comic strip, the Bechdel Test states that in order to pass, a film must feature a minimum of two female characters who have at least one conversation with each other about something other than a man.

This may sound simple enough, but the huge numbers of films which continue to fail the test completely is quite remarkable, while many of those that do pass only just about scrape by. The movie database website bechdeltest.com adds the requirement that the two female characters must be named, while writer Charles Stross has observed that if you extend the third rule, “other than a man”, to “other than a man or marriage or babies”, about 50% of those films that otherwise seem to pass would no longer do so.

Ellen Tejle, the director of the art-house cinema Bio Rio in StockholmTranslated into Sweden’s new rating system, films that pass the test will be awarded an “A” grade, allowing cinema-goers to be more selective in their viewing choices, should they wish to. Ellen Tejile, director of Bio Rio, one of the first cinemas to introduce the system, feels that it has been an “eye-opener” for many viewers, since people’s perceptions about men’s and women’s roles in society can be heavily influenced by what they see on screen: even now, it’s relatively unusual to see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them”, compared to the number of male characters we see in these kind of roles.

To help promote the move, Bio Rio will be holding a “Super Sunday” on 17th November, during which the cinema will screen solely A-rated movies. The change has even been welcomed outside of the cinemas themselves in some quarters: the Scandinavian cable television channel Viasat Film, for example, has already opted to start using the ratings in its film reviews.

While many institutions and individual viewers have responded positively to the initiative, however, it has also, perhaps unsurprisingly, caused great deal of controversy, with some arguing that the test is reductive and limited in its ability to assess gender balance and positive representation. Said Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas:

“There are far too many films that pass the Bechdel test that don’t help at all in making society more equal or better, and lots of films that don’t pass the test but are fantastic at those things.”

© Foto: MIKAEL SJÖBERGHynek also criticised the Swedish Film Institute, which has come out strongly in favour of the measure, saying that it is not the place of this state-funded organisation to “send out signals about what one should or shouldn’t include in a movie”.

Whether or not this rating system is the right way to bring about change, the fact remains that under-representation is a big problem in film, both on and off-screen, and it is difficult to imagine that this can have no effect on audiences and their perceptions of themselves and others – particularly on younger, more influenceable viewers. According to a study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film in San Diego, in the top 100 US films of 2011, just 33% of all characters were female, while a mere 11% of protagonists were women. Research at the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania has also shown that the ratio of male to female characters in films has stayed static at about 2:1 for over six decades. In an email, the lead author of this study, Amy Bleakley, wrote that:

“Apparently Hollywood thinks that films with male characters will do better at the box office. It is also the case that most of the aspects of movie-making – writing, production, direction, and so on – are dominated by men, and so it is not a surprise that the stories we see are those that tend to revolve around men.”

What are your views on this new rating system? Will this put movies on the path to equality, or has Sweden taken a step too far? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: The Guardian

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