FOR more than a century, movie ratings have warned cinema-goers of bad language, violence and gratuitous nudity.
Now, cinemas in Sweden have begun to rate films depending on whether they portray men and women equally.
Where a “U” means “universal for all”, the new “A” rating means the movie has passed the so-called “Bechdel test” which means it must have at least two named female characters who have a conversation which does not revolve around a man.
The test was developed by Alison Bechdel, an American cartoonist, who introduced the concept in 1985, and has since become a standard by which feminists and certain film critics judge a movie.
Now, for the first time, a cinema chain in Sweden will note those films that pass the “Bechdel test” and award them with an “A” certificate.
Films that have been deemed to have passed the test include Brave, the Pixar cartoon, Aliens, staring Sigourney Weaver and Thelma and Louise. However, those that have failed include the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Star Wars trilogy and all but one of the Harry Potter movies.
Last month, four movie theatres in Sweden introduced the new film certificate including the Bio Rio, an art-house movie theatre in the Sodermalm district of Stockholm. Yesterday Ellen Tejle, the director of the Bio Rio, said: “For some people it has been an eye-opener.”
She explained that women’s roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie-watchers rarely see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them”.
The state-funded Swedish Film Institute supports the initiative, which is starting to catch on. Scandinavian cable TV channel Viasat Film says it will start using the ratings in its film reviews and has scheduled an “A” rated “Super Sunday” on 17 November, when it will show only films that pass the test, such as The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady and Savages.
The idea also has the support of Hollywood where the actress and producer Jada Pinkett Smith, who was in the Matrix films, said: “A feminist ratings system? That’s so interesting. I say, hey, let’s see if it works.”
The “A” rating is the latest Swedish move to promote gender equality by addressing how women are portrayed in the public sphere. Sweden’s advertising ombudsman watches out for sexism in that industry and reprimands companies seen as reinforcing gender stereotypes, for example by including skimpily clad women in their ads for no apparent reason other than to draw eyeballs.
Research in the US supports the notion that women are under-represented on the screen and that little has changed in the past 60 years. Of the US top 100 films in 2011, women accounted for 33 per cent of all characters and only 11 per cent of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
Yesterday, Siobhan Synnot, the film critic for Scotland on Sunday, said: “Surprisingly, few films meet the requirements of Bechdel. Even more depressing is that it goes unnoticed.
“Women in supportive roles is taken for granted, because we’re so used to predominantly male casts. A male-centric story is seen as universal, but women’s lives are regarded as niche.”
FILMS THAT WOULD FAIL
1) The Social Network
2) Lord of the Rings trilogy
3) Star Wars trilogy
5) Run Lola Run
6) Hangover Part III
7) Monster’s University
8) Toy Story
9) Finding Nemo
10) The Terminator