"One could probably write a pile of supervision essays addressing why the LGBT community are probably more under-represented than women in movies"Disney

Sarah Wilson

IMDB’s decision to add an ‘F’ certificate to films written, directed, and starring ‘complex’ female characters is a little like the pervasive ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirts that crowd social media feeds. It’s nice, it raises awareness, and it’s probably an improvement on Netflix’s ‘women who rule the screen category’, which currently includes the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But, as Nell Scovell pointed out in her article last year on the subject of women in film, awareness doesn’t necessarily propel change, and though the label is a positive step, it must come alongside real attempts to encourage and push women to take on roles in a traditionally male-dominated industry. In the top 100 films of 2016, just 29 per cent of protagonists were women, and in the top 250 grossing films just 17 per cent of all directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers were female. The statistics have not been steadily progressing either; this latter statistic is even with results from eight years earlier, in 1998.

“Steps must be taken not just to recognise the sparse offerings that we already have, but to nurture the talent of women”

The problems begin before women have even made it into the industry. My father, who teaches film and screenwriting at university level, has noted to me before that scriptwriting is often taken up evenly by men and women in the first year of a course, but by third year this shifts. These women often turn to production, make up, or organisation, while the men assume scriptwriting and directorial roles. When women do make it into the industry, they relay countless uncomfortable tales of men abusing their power over them, and even at the very top face wage disparity. Steps must be taken not just to recognise the sparse offerings that we already have, but to nurture the talent of women, especially those from economically disadvantaged and ethnic minority backgrounds, for whom access is even harder. Programmes like the Canadian Academy’s recent apprenticeship for female directors are a good and practical start; without ventures like these the ‘F’ rating will continue to elude the majority of films in the mainstream, an empty, if positive, token.

Aditya Guha:

The next time you scroll down looking for IMDb ratings, you might be surprised to see some of these movies embossed with an F sign. No, the IMDb is sadly not becoming more hip by slyly introducing expletives as part of its ratings. Instead, this dryly lets us know whether the film has been written, directed or stars a prominent female character. So exciting! Imagine seeing an F sign and immediately knowing you have to watch it for no other reason that it features women in a prominent role. I’m already excited!

“But can we fault films for following their choice of cast?”

The fact remains that there are still movies created in 2017 that fail the Bechdel test. It’s a simple criteria, introduced by Bechdel in the 1980s, to see if a film had at least two female characters who spoke to each other on a topic other than ‘men’. It’s incredible that films could fail such a bare minimum threshold. But can we fault films for following their choice of cast? For example, most superhero flicks follow the Smurfette principle where there is only one prominent female character. The fact that this eponym is derived from The Smurfs points out to us that animations aren’t immune to this bias as well. So, IMDb supposedly would bring more awareness to this issue by introducing the new letter. Or as I like to say it: The F word.

“So, IMDb supposedly would bring more awareness to this issue by introducing the new letter. Or as I like to say it: The F word”

But would you like your movies to be marked like your groceries, organic or GMO, F or no F? And isn’t this a slippery slope? Where will we draw the line? LGBT, minorities and other under-represented categories should be given an equal voice as well, shouldn’t they? One could probably write a pile of supervision essays addressing why the LGBT community are probably more under-represented than women in movies. In fact, let me introduce the Guha-Bechdel test! (Yes, I just did that.)

Any movie that has at least two female/LGBT/ethnic minority characters who speak to each other on a topic that is central to the advancement to the plot passes this test.

While the idea is certainly bold, this should not be the sole measure of diversity. Movies cater to audiences and the producers assume that most people who legally end up viewing their artistic product are straight white males. This is an issue that needs to be resolved by varying the demographics more than increasing awareness. For my part, I wouldn’t necessarily sacrifice artistic quality over an F sign in viewing a movie. But there remains the enticing possibility that it would eventually end up irking some of the bigoted folks to the point of watching F-rated movies and then bragging about it! I would like to end with a few lines as given in an interview by feminist director Holly Tarquini to The Guardian:

“I hope that the F rating will become redundant as the stories we see on screen reflect our culture, and that 50 per cent of the stories we see [will be] told by and about women.”

Till then, F is the word

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