Girls on Film, was the title of a series of discussions hosted by the 2014 Underwire film festival which showcases upcoming women filmmakers. One of the talks entitled The Bechdel Test needs your Vote debated whether The Bechdel Test’s certificate, the A-rate introduced in Sweden in 2013, would be a viable option for films in this country. To recap, the Bechdel Test named after Alison Bechdel’s 1985 cartoon Dykes to Watch out for, monitors whether a film has two women that are a) named b) who talk to each other c) about something other than a man, a simple yet surprisingly not often reached set of criteria. Amongst the failures, Avatar, Toy story and Gravity and ones that do pass, Blue Jasmine ,The Hunger Games and Melancholia.
Chaired by journalist Corrina Antrobus the panel included Lucy Smee organiser of the Bechdel Test Film Club,(see previous post) Ellen Tejle founder of the A-rate certificate in Sweden which awards this badge onto films which pass the test, Rachel Hirons screen writer of The Powder Room (2013) a comedy in which women are the main protagnoists and Sara Lyttle from Hackney’s Rio cinema. The talk’s main issue was whether the test would merely become a tick box exercise with filmmakers just keen to tweak the script to get the A-certificate without really challenging the deeper content . A whole swathe of films in which an isolated, tokenistic conversation takes place and then is never repeated could be the more undesired outcome of the A-Rating. Tejle’s defense of the test was that it was more about it being a stepping stone to start raising an issue about the representation of women in film rather than about the quality of the film itself ; the film could be good or bad and still pass the test. According to Tejle if the A-grade certificate launched by four independent cinemas in Sweden, can generate awareness about the paucity of women in any kind of more complex roles in film then things might start to change. It could encourage a concerted effort amongst script writers to come up with better roles for women, which would then start the ball rolling for a wholescale shift within the industry towards equal representation. Writers who shirk their responsiblities was also mentioned, Lena Dunham was cited as someone who mainly uses white characters in her otherwise progressive work. As Rachel Hirons said, the A-rate could also put under the spotlight other areas in film needing a certificate, how many mainstream films that feature two or more black characters who talk about something other than crime are there currently ? Surely we need a certificate here too ?
The discussion also kept coming back to the main problem which was the basic lack of women in the industry. More films written and directed by women would mean an increasing amount of A-rated films which in the long run would render the certificate superflous, which is clearly what the A-certificate is aiming for. What this made me think about was how difficult it is for most people, audiences and producers alike, to see beyond the ‘norm’ of what we are offered in mainstream films and that it is incredible in the 21st century that we are having to award films that are challenging the male dominated status quo in such a basic way. A universally recognised certificate which alerts mass audiences to its content is surely a great tactic to have, it is at once humorous and serious at the same time. At the end of the session a vote was cast for or against introducing the A-rate in films into Britain, clearly at a women’s film festival it was preaching to the converted, but I am glad to say that there was 100 % majority choosing to vote yes.