Movie Ratings for Gender Bias – How To Get an “A” Rating

Movie Ratings for Gender Bias – How To Get an “A” Rating

As the holiday movie season ramps up, we can rest assure that we will be told how appropriate (or inappropriate) a movie is for our kids, but what about giving us a heads-up on gender bias?  Swedish cinemas have just launched a gender bias movie rating.  We might want to think about it here in the US.

According to USA Today, “To get an “A” rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.”

That’s tough criteria.  I was unable to think of any movies I’ve seen lately that would pass the gender bias test.  I just saw Gravity, which might pass the test if there had been another women.  The movie was good in that Sandra Bullock’s character didn’t need a man to save her, but it doesn’t meet the “two named female characters” standard. Like I said, it’s tough to pass the test.

At least this season there are some movies with women in it.  Last summer I saw the trailers for half a dozen movies without seeing one woman in a speaking part.  Really, Mr. Producer, women do like to go to the movies in the summertime, and it would be nice to have a movie where they were not just decoration for the men in the movie.  I didn’t go back all summer.

Did not pass the test

What popular movies have failed the Bechdel test according to Ellen Tejie, the director of the Bio Rio, an art-house movie theater in Stockholm?

  • Lord of the Rings – all three movies
  • Star Wars – all of them, I’ve lost count how many are out now
  • Pulp Fiction – I never saw this
  • Harry Potter movies – all but one and they don’t mention which one.  I can’t watch them all again to find out.

Which movies passed the test?

  • The Hunger Games
  • The Iron Lady
  • Savages

Whether this gender bias rating system is really needed is beside the point in my opinion.  We can see the lack of solid female stand alone roles in movies every day.

Here are some of the statistics:

  • In 2011 the top 100 movies in the US women accounted for only 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists
  • According to a study from the University of Southern Califorina Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 28% of the 4,475 speaking characters in 100 most successful films in 2012 were women
  • Of the 250 highest grossing films the past four years, only 7 were directed by women
  • Currently, there is only 1 woman who heads a major studio, Amy Pascal

“Apparently Hollywood thinks that films with male characters will do better at the box office.  It is also the case that most of the aspects of movie making – writing, production, direction, and so on – are dominated by men and so it is not a surprise that the stories we see are those that tend to revolve around men,” Amy Bleakley, who lead a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Five Actresses Speak Out About Gender Bias In Hollywood

So, what do the women who are impacted by these issues have to say?  Flavorwire, an online pop culture site, did an interview with 10 film and TV actresses on the state of female characters.  Here are a few of their quotes

  • Ellen Page – “Considering there are so few roles for women and the roles that do exist can be so narrow in their idea of what a woman can be, it is extremely important to me to be involved with projects where the girl is in charge of her own destiny and is honest and well written.”
  • Emma Thompson – “There are a lot of highly intelligent women who can act. There are not too many roles to fill — that’s the problem. I wrote [a role] [for Sense and Sensibility], and then I bloody well played it.”
  • Glenn Close – “It seems to be a great time now [for female characters]… we have Claire Danes in Homeland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep — strong women. It’s funny that television, particularly cable, is the place where women are finding great parts.”
  • Kerry Washington – “I have had, and still do, experiences where someone will say, ‘You know, we just don’t really see this character as black. We don’t want to go black with her.’ Some of it I respect, because this is a visual medium, so I don’t believe in color-blind casting. But I think sometimes people make that decision out of fear, or laziness, or just not wanting to have to travel down roads that aren’t familiar.”
  • Jennifer Lawrence – “I feel like, not only have we gotten to the place where we have a strong female lead, like Lara Croft being the female James Bond, we have somebody who’s not even the female James Bond. She is somebody who is literally really a young girl, being thrown into this situation and not knowing if she’s going to survive it. That says a lot.”

Hollywood entertainment is a business and it’s no difference in the way it treats women than any Fortune 500 company.  Until women are in positions of power and have equitable creative input, we will continue to get movies about men and the women will be in the background.

Have an “A” rated Sunday

On Sunday, November 17, 2013, the Scandinavian cable TV channel Viasat Film will have a “A” rated Supper Sunday, showing only films that pass the Bechdet test for gender bias.  In solidarity, I’m going to watch The Hunger Games and maybe raise a glass of whatever Sweden’s drink (I’ll have to do a little more research on that).  Maybe we can get something going in the US.  Maybe we can get some movies where women are not just someone’s girl friend, or mother, or psycho crazy person.  Maybe we can find a human being who is female to watch in a movie next summer. .

What movies have you seen that would make the “A” rating?  Let us know at  #LeaveYourLegacy #ARating.

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I am passionate about helping women make the most of their skills and talents in the workplace, as well as encouraging them to ask for what they want and deserve. Creating Ask Ajna with Jae Lynn has been a labor of love and if we can help women find their authentic voice and support one another, we will build a community of change.

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