Is the new Swedish A-rating a good way to promote gender equality in film?
Last week a new rating for films was launched in Sweden. It’s called “A-rating”, where “A” stands for “approved”. The seal is meant to be used for movies that have passed the Bechdel test. (In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the requirement to pass is to have at least two named women in it, who talk to each other about something besides a man.)
Behind the initiative are four independent cinemas in cooperation with the organizations Women in Film and Television and The Agency Equalisters.
This announcement has stirred quite debate in Sweden, dividing the film critics.
The critical voices accuse the Bechdel test for not measuring equality in an accurate way. A movie can have a very strong female perspective and yet fail at the test, for instance because there’s only one female character in the movie. And a film that displays every sexist stereotype you can think of can still pass the test thanks to a throw-away scene. A rating based on the Bechdel test risks to be counterproductive and misleading.
The supporters on the other hand admit that it’s not perfect, but argue that it’s better than the alternative: nothing at all. If anything, it’s a beginning. And if someone can come up with something better, they’re welcome to take an initiative. For now being, this is what we have.
So where do I stand in this?
I’ve written about the Bechdel test before at my blog, and while I’m perfectly aware of its shortcomings, I still think it’s valuable to raise awareness about the imbalances in how men and women are depictured in movies. It’s a good starting point for a conversation with people who never have reflected about those things before. You might even call it an eye-opener. For me it definitely was one. It wasn’t until I heard about this test that I started to pay attention to how often the conversation that women have with each other in movies end up being about men, as opposed to men, who talk about their careers, plans and views on the world. It’s not a perfect tool to evaluate movies, but I still think it’s got its place and I love that it’s started to pop up pretty often in the conversation we’re having in the film fan community.
But the Bechdel test is one thing and turning it into a formal rating with a stamp to be used on posters and in advertising is something else. Do we really need more ratings of movies? We already have the age rating (which I’m fine with.) In Sweden we’ve got a theatre chain that has achieved an eco-labelling. Admittedly this doesn’t refer to the movies as such, but to the organic snacks they’re serving. However I wouldn’t be surprised if someone would come up with the idea to rate the movie from this aspect as well.
Other possible ratings
Right away I could think of a bunch of possible ratings:
C-rated (C is for climate): this movie was recorded at one spot. No air plane journeys were made during its production and only environmental friendly fuel was used in the cars.
E-rated (E is for ethnical): the same requirements as the Bechdel test, but change gender to skin colour.
ANIM-rated (No animals were harmed during the recording of the movie.)
ANIM+ – rated (Same as ANIM-rated, with the addition that only vegetarian food was served to the production crew.)
And so on. I haven’t yet come up with the requirements for LGTB-rating and D-rating (D for disabled) or B-rating (B for tolerance for different religious Beliefs), but I’m positive thereare already suggestions for this, from people who take it a lot more seriously than I do.
And frankly I think this is just wrong. Labelling of this kind may work to some extent to help consumers to make better choices in a food store, but the film market is a different creature and I can’t see how the dynamics of labelling could work here.
Movie goers won’t shop around in the theatre lobby, looking at the posters to check out what seals different movies have. At least I won’t. I base my picks of movies on my experiences of previous works by the people involved in it (directors, screenwriters, actors) and on the reputation of the movie, what ‘ve read and heard. As the feminist I am, the issue whether a movie has passed the Bechdel test or not is the last thing on my mind when I make my decision about what to watch next.
Stirring a discussion
I don’t think the A-rating will spread any further than to the four theatres that launched it. The thought occurs to me that maybe that wasn’t the idea in the first place? Most of all it seems to me like stunt, meant to start a conversation and raise awareness about how women are portrayed in movies. And if that was all this was about, they’ve certainly succeeded. I haven’t seen media paying this much attention to the issue for a long time. The question is how long it will last. Tomorrow is another day. The piece of news about the A-rating will be swapped for the latest gossip about the recent cosmetic surgery of [insert random movie star].
The show will go on. It takes more than an A-rating to change it.