The A Rating

The world just keeps getting a little brighter.

This week I made an interesting discovery: recently, four Swedish cinemas have announced that they will be using the “A rating” in addition to the typical film ratings. If a film gets an A rating, that means it’s passed the Bechdel Test — a quick evaluation derived from Allison Bechdel’s 1985 cartoon strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For”. It’s a simple litmus test with three provisions:image

  1. Does the film have two or more female characters?
  2. Do those female characters have a conversation?
  3. Is that conversation about something other than men?

The test does not qualify a film as a “feminist film”, or even that it’s a good film — in fact, a sexist movie could pass the Bechdel test, or vice versa, a feminist film could fail to pass the test. It is simply a tool to measure how often the film industry tells a woman’s story.

Why is this important?

It’s such a worn out idea, but it really is true: art does reflect reality. So if the majority of films are underrepresenting (or misrepresenting) women, then that says something about our society and where we places our values. Hollywood is very much a man’s world at the moment: statistically most films are about men, and most writers, producers, and directors are men. In a study in 2011, women made up 33% of characters in films, and only 11% of protagonists. For a world in which women make up about 50% of the population, this is an alarmingly uneven reflection of reality.

So the Bechdel test does not measure the film, it measures the industry. It is a way of looking at what is presented to the world, recognizing that it is lacking in a woman’s perspective, and saying, “Why is that the case?”

It’s important to realize that the significance is not in the rating of the film — it’s in the fact that it causes you to analyze the entire system. Not only are several cinemas picking up the “A rating”, but there is even talk of other ratings that would indicate if the director or writer is a woman. Hopefully, if more people start questioning why there aren’t more stories about women, or more female filmmakers, the film industry will step up its game. (I also realize that it does often boil down to who has the talent to create the films… but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, often there are plenty of talented filmmakers whose voices never get heard because they don’t have connections. Read: men helping men.)

We can also use the Bechdel test for minority groups: switch women and men for black people and white people and we start to see just how Caucasian-focused society is (if we haven’t already noticed that already, of course). Personally, I’d like there to be a rating for this, as well.

Do I think the A rating will actually affect the film industry? Maybe not directly. The A rating is not perfect, and I think it will take a long time to change how disproportionate the film industry is, no matter how many tests we throw at it. But I do think it’s important to try. And as long as we’re trying, the world will remain that little bit brighter.

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