Most of us have been there, sitting in a dark theater, digging into a greasy box of popcorn (don’t judge), when the movie takes a turn for the terrible. Maybe the leading lady makes you cringe, because in order to save the day, she just has to disrobe for some reason. Or our bumbling heroine has a totally irrational meltdown that’s written off as hysteria inherent to women.
If avoiding sexism in movies were an option, most of us would take it. If only we had Sweden’s new warning system for the sexism cringe factor for filmgoers; cinemas there have instituted a classification system for films that grades them on the Bechdel Test.
Born of comic book musings in 1985, the test is pretty simple: The movie has to contain at least two named women characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.
You would think that would be easy. So what films make the grade?
“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,” Swedish cinema operator Ellen Tejle told The Guardian.
When she’s not pointing out hidden misogyny, Tejle runs art-house theater Bio Rio in Stockholm’s trendy Sodermalm district, one of several independent cinemas that have instituted the classification. The classification has been backed by the national film institute.
Though it’s laudable to track and call attention to onscreen sexism, as the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film does, experts say the Bechdel Test sets the bar too low.
“A better standard would be to require that more films feature female protagonists,” says the center’s director, Martha Lauzen, who adds that hiring women to work as directors and writers would help too.
In a report on women’s onscreen representation, the center found that women account for just 33 percent of characters in film and only 11 percent of protagonists.
- Alison Bechdel on The Bechdel Test and Swedish Cinema (comicsbeat.com)