Swedish cinemas adopt gender bias rating

Cinemas in Sweden will rate films against the Bechdel test, which ensures women are properly represented on the big screen

Cinemas in Sweden are to become the first in the world to rate films for gender bias. They will use the Bechdel test, which assesses the presence and involvement of female characters on screen.

Four cinemas announced in October that they will soon be using the Bechdel system. They will be joined by TV channel Viasat Film, which will have dedicated days when it will only show films that pass the test.

To pass, and therefore get a Bechdel A-rating, a film must meet the following criteria: it must have at least two named female characters, they must talk to each other and they must talk to each other about something other than a man.

Many studies suggest that women are severely under-represented in film. One report, carried out by San Diego State University in 2012 called It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, found that of the top 100 grossing US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists.

More than 3,000 films have been tested on the user-edited website bechdeltest.com. As of July 2012, 53% of these films passed all three of the test’s requirements, with 11% failing to pass any at all. Of the 10 highest grossing films of all time, only three pass the test.

“It is a way to keep the fire burning in this very important debate. To put it simply, we believe films should reflect our reality”

The concept of the test first came about in a 1985 comic by Alison Bechdel, from her series Dykes to Watch Out For, but it is only now that the test is being used by any media outlets.

The Swedish Film Institute (SFI) has publicly supported the move. Martin Frostburg from SFI said: “It is a way to keep the fire burning in this very important debate – to deal with stereotypes and to highlight the importance of creating role models for women. To put it simply, we believe films should reflect our reality.”

However, some feel that the Bechdel test is not comprehensive enough. For instance, films can pass the test and still contain sexist content and films with prominent female characters can still fail.

“I would suggest that this test sets the bar far too low,” said Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. “A better standard would be to require that more films feature female protagonists and employ greater numbers of women in powerful behind-the-scenes roles as directors and writers.”

Other media equality tests

The Bechdel test has inspired a number of other ratings systems that attempt to gauge levels of equality in the media. Here is a selection of some that have been proposed this year:

The Mako Mori test
Concept: Created by Tumblr blogger Chaila in August “to live alongside the Bechdel test” rather than replace it, this rating examines more closely the individual roles given to female characters in movies.

Criteria: Films must include at least one female character, at least one of which gets her own narrative arc and that the arc must not support a man’s story.


The Finkbeiner test
Concept: Journalist Christie Aschwanden proposed a test in March to help avoid gender stereotyping in articles about women in science. “Treating female scientists as special cases only perpetuates the idea that there’s something extraordinary about a woman doing science,” Aschwanden said.

Criteria: Articles should not mention: the fact that she’s a woman, her husband’s job, her childcare arrangements, how she nurtures her underlings, how she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field, how she’s such a role model for other women or how she’s the “first woman to…”


The Russo test
Concept: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy organisation GLAAD proposed the Russo test in August, named after Vito Russo, film historian and co-founder of GLAAD. “When it comes to being included in the grand cinematic universes created by Hollywood, LGBT characters are typically left out of the picture,” said Matt Kane, GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media. In GLAAD’s 2013 Studio Responsibility Index, only six films out of the 101 major Hollywood releases assessed in 2012 managed to pass the Russo test.

Criteria: To pass, films must contain at least one character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. An LGBT character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.


The Racial Bechdel test
Concept: In an article in the New Statesman in October, social commentary novelist Nikesh Shukla said: “I call for a test to be applied akin to the Bechdel test for gender. I want to see a film where two ethnic minorities talk to each other for more than five minutes about something other than race.” One blog has created such a test and uses it to assess both films and TV programmes.

Criteria: There must be at least two non-white characters who have a conversation about something other than a white person.

Read it and don’t weep.

Headlines about what’s going right in the world are now being shared with millions of people through digital screens on high streets and in shopping centres all around the UK.