--2 Passing the Test
         
Dec. 10, 2016
This strip by Alison Bechdel inspired the new ratings system.
Alison Bechdel/Wikimedia Commons

Passing the Test

CCA starts rating movies on representation of women

May 2, 2014, 1:00 pm
By Emily Zak

It has come to my attention that Star Wars is a failure. So is Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Avatar

At least according to the new ratings system at the CCA Cinematheque. As of Thursday, the independent film house is the first theater in North America to rate its movie screenings on their portrayal of women.  

The CCA comes to a verdict using the Bechdel test, which was brought into public awareness last November when some Swedish theaters started using it to score their movies. Based on an 80s comic called Dykes to Watch Out For, the test gives a movie a passing grade if it contains a woman character who talks to another woman about something other than a man. The CCA will label advertisements for the movies that pass with a mark of approval.

"People going to the movies don’t think about gender bias...and the film industry is hugely male-dominated, top to bottom," says CCA Director Jason Silverman. "The movies are an incredibly powerful cultural force and even an educational force in our culture. We should be thinking about the ways who gets to tell the stories and what kind of stories are being told."

Silverman references the fact that many blockbusters don't get a pass the test. Entertainment website Vocativ analyzed 50 of 2013’s biggest box office hits in the US and found about 40 percent contained women who talked to each other.

"My main goal is to increase awareness of the lack of female characters, because acknowledging that is so important and so difficult to do," writes Siena Bergt, who is leading the rating initiative, in an email to SFR. “If you reverse the Bechdel test—if you require a movie to have two named male characters that talk about something other than a woman—you’d have a hard time finding anything that doesn’t pass."

She adds that she's grateful women's on-screen roles have diversified over the years, citing characters like Dr. Stone in Gravity—which passes the Bechdel test dubiously because she’s out in space, mostly alone besides maybe five minutes with George Clooney. (She talks with the woman captain of the ship Explorer briefly, notes Bergt.) At the same time, cinematic paradigms like Legally Blonde and The Counselor also pass, and as Silverman notes, the artsy Scarlett Johansson-led Under the Skin does not. (She's an alien who steals men's skin to wear, and she works alone.)

"At its heart, the Bechdel test isn’t actually a test of how feminist or how empowering to females a movie is," Bergt says. "It’s also not a test of a film’s artistic merit...The test doesn’t require female characters to be strong, or to counteract pervasive gender norms—it just requires that they have one interaction outside of their interactions with men, and, above all, that they exist.

"The fact that it requires so little and yet so few movies pass speaks volumes.”

CCA is one of the movie theaters hosting the Santa Fe Film Festival this weekend. While the cinema didn't employ the Bechdel test for those features, CCA Manager Jesse Hockersmith names three films The Other Brother, The Club and Nothing in Los Angeles as having strong female characters.

 

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