The Bechdel Test assesses gender bias by measuring the presence of strong female roles.
The Shawshank Redemption. Good Will Hunting. 12 Angry Men. of these three critically acclaimed films, not one of them would receive an ‘A’ rating based on a review system being implemented in several Swedish cinemas. The rating system in question? The Bechdel Test of course.
The Bechdel Test, named after the author/artist Alison Bechdel, was first introduced in 1985 to assess films according to the following guidelines: are there at least two female characters with names, and do those characters have a conversation about something other than a man. Essentially, are there strong female presences in the film.
Bolstered by praise from the Swedish Film Institute, the new rating system has been implemented in four cinemas in Sweden, with only films meeting the specified criteria receiving an ‘A’. Additionally, Viasat Film has said it will begin using the system in film reviews and will show only ‘A’ films on their television station on November 17th (including The Hunger Games and The Iron Lady). While the initiative calls attention to apparent gender bias in the industry, does it say anything about the quality of the film? Ellen Tejle, a participating theater director, commented in an Associated Press interview:
(Additional favorites that would fail can be found here).
Despite the Bechdel Test’s intentions, a film can still achieve an ‘A’ even if female characters are stereotyped and the movie itself isn’t empowering. (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Evil Dead, for example, both pass). While gender skew may be expected of older films, the bias seemingly still pervades today as a study at San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found only “11 percent of protagonists in the top 100 films of 2011 were female.”
An ‘A’ rating clearly isn’t an assessment of quality or success, but it does provide a chance to take a deeper look at the industry. And in Sweden, a country that professes gender equality, adoption of the rating system isn’t wholly unexpected.