Movie theaters in Sweden have introduced a new rating system based on gender bias. To get an "A" rating, a movie needs to have two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. It sounds simple enough, but a ton of successful blockbusters would fail this rather facile test. "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, a director of an art-house movie theater in Stockholm, told the AP. The test she's referring to is the so-called Bechdel test (named for the cartoonist who popularized the idea), and that's quite a roster of award-winning movies that wouldn't pass.
Though the test isn't about quality, it does shine a light on how many "good" movies and money-making blockbusters don't do enough when it comes to female stories and female characters. That's half of the goal with this test. The other goal is the hope to effect change, and encourage more female stories and more dynamic female characters like those seen in The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady, and The Savages.
The ratings haven't come without their share of critics. Studio execs and higher-ups have often said that a female superhero or action star wouldn't sell as an explanation for why they've been reluctant to back a superhero flick with a female lead. (Again, see Hunger Games and the Underworld franchise to get why they are wrong.) That's a big reason why female heroes and protagonists may be underrepresented and are even on the decline from nearly a decade ago. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film's statistics from 2011:
[F]emales accounted for 33% of all characters in the top 100 domestic grossing films ... While the percentage of female characters has increased over the last decade, the percentage of female protagonists has declined. In 2002, female characters accounted for 16% of protagonists. In 2011, females comprised only 11% of protagonists.
Others say the blunt use of the Bechdel test doesn't go far enough when it comes to actually changing the culture. Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas told the AP. "There are far too many films that pass the Bechdel test that don't help at all in making society more equal or better, and lots of films that don't pass the test but are fantastic at those things."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.