While Harvey Weinstein is making a case that awards-buzz title Philomena should be given a PG-13 rather than the R it’s been saddled with by the MPAA in the U.S., a group in Sweden is eyeing a new form of ratings altogether – one that Philomena would be unlikely to pass. Four art-house cinemas in the cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg, Helsingborg and Malmö recently installed a new (unofficial) ratings system that hinges on the Bechdel Test, a means by which it’s become popular to measure the level of gender bias in movies. The test is based on three criteria which were introduced by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel in a 1985 strip of her comic, Dykes To Watch Out For. The criteria are that a movie has to have: 1. at least two named women in it, 2. who talk to each other, and, 3. about something besides a man. Although the database at Bechdeltest.com has yet to yea or nay Philomena in its list of 2013 movies, I’m fairly confident in my recollection that the only “named” women are the eponymous character, her fellow unwed mothers at the abbey and the nuns that gave her baby away. For the most part, their discussions are only about a man – in this case Philomena’s long lost son. Another awards season contender, Gravity, is essentially a one-woman show. So, despite Sandra Bullock’s incredible journey, it wouldn’t have a chance at a pass. The Swedish cinemas involved in this rating movement are art-house, and thus unlikely to be showing mainstream fare. Regardless, even with the Bechdel scale as barometer, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks of Philomena or Gravity as sexist movies.
The new “A” (for approved) label created by the Swedish consortium, which made headlines in an AP story on Wednesday, rubber stamps movies which pass the Bechdel Test. Equalisters, a Swedish project that aims to correct imbalances of representation in media, culture, business and other contexts, helped launch the scheme at the four cinemas last month, along with the Swedish chapter of Women In Film & Television (WIFT). The group stresses on its website that the A-rating isn’t meant to disparage the quality of a movie, rather it’s “more like an alarm clock and a way of raising awareness about who gets to talk in movies today and whose stories are being told.” The A-label can be stamped on posters, ads and programs and be shown on the screen before a given film starts. Equalisters contends that the Bechdel criteria should be “easy enough” but “there are surprisingly few films that actually pass the test.” WIFT’s Maria Larsson Guerpillon said at launch, “The Bechdel Test started almost 30 years ago so really this should now be a non-issue. But unfortunately, the desired change has not occurred. With the A label, we hope to accelerate this process.”