November 6, 2013

Swedish cinemas launch feminist movie rating

To get an ‘A’ rating, a movie must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

By Malin Rising
The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM — You expect movie ratings to tell you whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence. Now movie theaters in equality-minded Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it.

click image to enlarge

The director of art-house movie theatre Bio Rio in Stockholm, Ellen Tejle holds a Bechdel test approval “A” certificate.

The Associated Press

To get an “A’’ rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

“The entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, all ‘Star Wars’ movies, ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Pulp Fiction’ and all but one of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house movie theater in Stockholm’s trendy Sodermalm district.

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish movie theaters that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass. Most visitors have reacted positively to the initiative “and for some people it has been an eye-opener,” said Tejle, reclining in one of Bio Rio’s cushy red seats.

Beliefs about 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,” Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens.”

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 Nov. 17, when it will show only films that pass the test, such as “The Hunger Games,” ‘’The Iron Lady” and “Savages.”

The Bechdel test got its name from American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who introduced the concept in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985. It has been discussed among feminists and film critics since then, but Tejle hopes the “A’’ rating system will help spread awareness among moviegoers about how women are portrayed in films.

In Bio Rio’s wood-paneled lobby, students Nikolaj Gula and Vincent Fremont acknowledged that most of their favorite films probably wouldn’t get an “A’’ rating.

“I guess it does make sense, but to me it would not influence the way I watch films because I’m not so aware about these questions,” said Fremont, 29.

At least one Hollywood star sounded excited by the idea when asked about it by The Associated Press.

“A feminist ratings system? That’s so interesting!” actress-producer Jada Pinkett Smith said in Beverly Hills, California, where she was attending a benefit dinner for gender equality. “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.

Since 2010, the Equalisters project has been trying to boost the number of women appearing as expert commentators in Swedish media through a Facebook page with 44,000 followers. The project has recently expanded to Finland, Norway and Italy.

For some, though, Sweden’s focus on gender equality has gone too far.

“If they want different kind of movies they should produce some themselves and not just point fingers at other people,” said Tanja Bergkvist, a physicist who writes a blog about Sweden’s “gender madness.”

The “A’’ rating also has been criticized as a blunt tool that doesn’t actually reveal whether a movie is gender-balanced.

(Continued on page 2)

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