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Sweden’s New Film Rating System Zeroes In on Gender Bias

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Posted on Nov 7, 2013
trash world (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Grand Cinema in Stockholm.

Some of you may have heard of the Bechdel test—a simple method used to identify whether a film is gender biased based on a question posed by comic strip artist Allison Bechdel. Cinemas in the ever-progressive Scandinavian country are now incorporating this gauge into their film ratings. And the results are embarrassing for Hollywood.

Passing the test with flying colors requires that a film contain at least two named women who speak to one another about anything other than a man. You’d be surprised how many flicks couldn’t even muster a couple of lead ladies to get an A. The Guardian reports:

“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 cinema in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district.

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish cinemas that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel test. Most filmgoers have reacted positively to the initiative. “For some people it has been an eye-opener,” said Tejle.

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,” he added.

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….

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 top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Although some have groaned about the test going “too far,” others believe it hasn’t gone far enough. Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas says too many films pass the Bechdel test that don’t actually make “society more equal or better,” while there are other movies that don’t pass and do just that.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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