Since its inception, the Motion Picture Association of America has enabled filmmakers to produce art while protecting their rights as companies. In addition, the MPAA rating system keeps a close eye on the content that makes up this art.
In the United States, films are rated for adult content, language, violence and thematic elements. However, in Sweden, worrying about too many f-bombs in a film isn’t the only issue causing concern.
In October, four cinemas under one management in Sweden launched a new rating system that grades the level of feminist values. Essentially, if a movie doesn’t have enough lady power, these theaters give it a thumbs down.
While the system was created in a tongue-in-cheek fashion from a 1985 comic strip and has since been used by movie buffs and reviewers, certain theaters have taken its advice more seriously.
The Bechdel test, so named after the creator of the comic strip, poses three requirements that certify a movie’s feminist qualifications: the film must contain at least two female characters, they must talk to each other and the two must discuss something other than a man.
With such simple criteria, it would seem in this forward-thinking society that most contemporary films would fit this mold. However, these Swedish theaters discovered the opposite was true.
In fact, most of the blockbusters in recent movie history have not lined up with these requirements. Stockholm’s Bio Rio cinema director told the Associated Press all three “Lord of the Rings” movies, the entire “Star Wars” franchise, “The Social Network,” “Pulp Fiction” and all but one of the “Harry Potter” movies failed this litmus test.
It’s admirable that these theaters are trying to integrate feminist values into their movies, but with such broad requirements, it seems more like they’re making a public scene rather than raising awareness. With only three rules to follow, most movies fail these standards, but further investigation doesn’t reveal anything worth exposing through a rating system.
Arguably, women are underrepresented in Hollywood. If these theaters truly wanted to be fair for the sake of political correctness, representing the entire population and each subculture would be in order. Where are the film ratings that depict the ethnicity, religion or orientations in movies?
This rating system doesn’t revere the other aspects of a strong female presence in a movie. For example, “Gravity” features only one man and one woman in its entirety, and Sandra Bullock’s performance has tremendous depth and interest and makes many romantic comediennes shy in comparison. None of the feminist requirements are met in this film.
Certainly movies like the “Transformers” series exploit women into something no greater than a scantily clad body standing next to a muscle car, and a rating system like the Bechdel test may offer a bit of guidance to viewers for movies like these.
However, films like “Lord of the Rings” should be given more credit. It would be inappropriate for this system to make sense in these movies simply because J.R.R. Tolkien’s original story doesn’t feature such interactions.
Movies that lack these so-called feminist values are not necessarily bad or poorly executed, and even Bio Rio’s Facebook mentions this disclaimer. Its main goal in the rating system is to reveal the state of these movies rather than their quality to cinema.
In the past year, movies such as “Machete Kills” and “We’re the Millers” have met the requirements for this system, yet both films depict sexist or misogynistic content that degrades women. While they both contain at least two women talking to each other about subjects other than men, it doesn’t necessarily mean the dialogue these women have empowers them at all.
In the end, the criteria these Swedish theaters follow miss the intended outcome for moviegoers: stronger female presences and values.
However, with these broad definitions of “girl power,” it might be impossible for any movie to impress these feminists fully.
If the theaters truly want a difference in the way women are portrayed, they first need to accept a definition of feminism that allows both empowerment and recognition of female characters without such narrow qualifications.