From the land that gave the cinema world Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman comes a plan for pressuring filmmakers to correct decades of gender stereotyping and sexism.
Four independent Swedish cinemas, in collaboration with the state-funded Swedish Film Institute, have begun rating the films they show on whether they pass the "Bechdel Test."
The sexism ratings exam is named for American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who introduced it in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985. It poses three tests for weeding out sexist entertainment by requiring films to have:
--at least two named female characters
--who talk to each other in the film
--about something other than men
"You'd think this is not too much to ask, but as has been noted time and again, there are surprisingly few films that actually pass the test," the ratings project organizers at A-Maerkt note on their website.
Found lacking in gender equality, for example: "Shrek," "Ghostbusters," "Braveheart," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Princess Bride," all "Star Wars" movies, most "007" films, the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and all but one of the "Harry Potter" stories made for the big screen.
The goal of the ratings project is to encourage the telling of "more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens," Bio Rio cinema director Ellen Tejle told the Associated Press in an interview at her Stockholm art-house theater.
Tejle said women's views of their roles in society are influenced by the dearth of movies depicting “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them.”
For more than six decades, actresses have been twice as likely to be seen in explicitly sexual roles as are their male counterparts, and actors are far more often cast as action heroes or violent villains than are actresses, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania reported last year after reviewing 855 top box-office draws between 1950 and 2006.
In "It's a Man's (Celluloid) World," a review of the top 100 films of 2011 by UC San Diego's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women accounted for only one third of all characters and only 11% of protagonists.
Britain's Guardian newspaper, in its story on the Swedish ratings initiative, noted the paucity of female directors at work in Hollywood, down to 5% last year, according to a report, from a peak of 9% in 1998.
That statistic may not be as relevant as critics suggest, though.
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director for her 2010 film "The Hurt Locker" -- a movie that fails all three elements of the Bechdel Test.
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