The Bath Film Festival created waves internationally this month, by introducing an ‘F-rated’ strand for films which have female leads, discuss women’s issues, or have a senior figure in production who was a female. Seventeen of the forty two films shown at the festival were given such a rating, and the rating has been hugely popular across the film industry, and international media platforms.
The rating comes as a response to the ‘Bechdel Test’, a current test used to examine gender parity in film. This test has very few requirements: the film must have at least two named women in it; they must talk to each other; and this talk must be about something other than a man. Starting out as a joke in a feminist newspaper, the rating is broadly used by feminists to examine popular films, and to the dismay of critics, only 53% of films made between 1970 and 2013 passed the test. Even worse, this is especially concerning in children’s films, with ten out of fourteen Pixar films failing the Bechdel Test.
The Bechdel test is commonly used because it seems incredibly simple, and almost a given that most films would have two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men, but this is not the case, and is a shocking way of pointing out the lack of gender equality in the film industry, and indeed the general media. However, just because the Bechdel test is the most widely used, it does not mean that it is perfect. It is argued that the Bechdel test sets far too low a boundary for feminist film making, and that a truly feminist film should strive for much more than just including two characters who don’t speak about men.
The ‘F-rating’ is the first of its kind to be introduced within a Film Festival, and as a result it has been making waves internationally. They argue that the Bechdel test is too simple, and therefore excludes films with few characters, or an incredibly strong, but incredibly isolated female main character- such as Sandra Bullock’s character in ‘Gravity’. In addition, the film festival asserts that gender parity both on and off screen should be considered, as currently only 16% of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors are women. In the last five years, 95% of films released by major US studios were directed by men. In addition, only one woman has won an Academy Award for directing, in the 86 year history of the awards (Kathryn Bigalow for the Hurt Locker in 2010).
However, films that encourage diversity in gender representation tend to make more money, with films with just 21-30% diversity making over double those with only 10% diversity at the box office. Equality sells, and the introduction of the F- rating at the film festival highlights this. In the words of the organisers: “equality benefits everyone, men as well as women”. Lexi Alexander (an Oscar nominated director) supports this statement “there is no lack of female directors. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give female directors opportunities.”
The introduction of the ‘F-rating at the Bath Film Festival has sparked viral conversations about gender equality in filmmaking. With many writers suggesting that the rating should be rolled out nationally, time will tell whether this simple rating will, and indeed can, truly make a difference to the state of gender equality within the film making industry.