Swedish cinemas launch feminist movie rating

You expect movie ratings to tell you whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence. Now movie theaters in equality-minded Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it.

To get an “A” rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

“The entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, all ‘Star Wars’ movies, ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Pulp Fiction’ and all but one of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house movie theater in Stockholm’s trendy Sodermalm district.

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish movie theaters that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass. Most visitors have reacted positively to the initiative “and for some people it has been an eye-opener,” said Tejle, reclining in one of Bio Rio’s cushy red seats.

Beliefs about women’s roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie watchers rarely see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them,” Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens.”

The Bechdel test got its name from American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who introduced the concept in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985. It has been discussed among feminists and film critics since then, but Tejle hopes the “A” rating system will help spread awareness among moviegoers about how women are portrayed in films.