Women-centric films — Do we need the Bechdel Test Rating?

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test?

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl) asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Many contemporary works fail this test of gender bias.

The test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. In 1985, she had a character in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For voice the idea, which she attributed to a friend, Liz Wallace. The test was originally conceived for evaluating films but has since been applied to other media. It is also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test,[1] the Bechdel rule,[2] Bechdel’s law,[3] or the Mo Movie Measure.[4]

What’s amazing about this simple criteria for films is how many of them don’t pass this test!  This is not just an issue for American films though Hollywood does crank out a huge crop of action films and boy-behaving-badly comedies.

“Research in the US supports the notion that women are under-represented on the screen and that little has changed in the past 60 years.  Of the  top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/swedish-cinemas-bechdel-test-films-gender-bias

Sweden has created an A Rating for films that  pass the Bechdel test.  This rating system can help audiences find those films that feature women-centric stories.  It’s not a rating that points out violence or nudity, but rather draws attention to films that might be allowing for a female perspective to join the clamor of male voices.  Surprisingly, some films directed by women would not get the A Rating, The Hurt Locker, for instance– but highlighting these films is a step in the right direction.

Look for the Bechdel rating at the bottom of my film blogs.

San Francisco International Film Festival 56: Four Fun Features!

Staff BadgeA film festivals is like a river.  Where you “ford” the river; where you step into the stream, is unique.  Your experience of the same events will often differ drastically from everyone around you.

Are you anticipating a film because you’re familiar with the director’s previous work?  Do you adore the lead actor and are you excited to spend some quality time in their presence?  Did you have to stand in the cold in a long line before you were admitted into the theater or was it nearly impossible to find parking? All of these personal concerns and anticipations will color your view.

For me, having worked in this field for so long, film festivals are almost like coming home.  I know the staff, I’ve worked the venues, and I love the thrill of seeing a film with filmmakers present!  My film-going experience is bound to be a positive one.  This year at SFIFF 56, I worked more than usual, both at the theaters and away from them.  So I had very limited opportunities to actually watch films.  Fortunately, the four features I did manage to see, were all very good.

“What Maisie Knew” — Divorce, Hollywood-style

SFIFF opened with this tale of self-centered parents battling for their child’s affections.  Based on a short story by Henry James penned 100 years ago, the damage inflicted by neglect is brought to life by the marvelous performance of the young lead, Onata Aprile.  As the pawn fought over by Julianne Moore’s aging rock star mother and the traveling philandering father, played by Steve Coogan, Onata is refreshingly open in her natural reactions.  Her joy at spending time with the actors who play her surrogate parents is a delight.  Alexander Skarsgard elevates every scene he’s in as the party boy who becomes the affectionate companion.  The story stretches credability and reason at points, (even wealthy people can’t get away with this level of neglect) and the ending is pure fairytale but there’s a level of charm here that’s hard to deny.  Rating: 3 glasses of expensive red wine

“Cutie and the Boxer” — Eccentric and Wonderful

Zachary Heinzerling’s directorial debut is the winning documentary about an eccentric painter and sculptor, Ushio Shinohara and his supportive wife and fellow artist, Noriko Shinohara.  This intimate portrait of two talented Japanese artists struggling to find an audience (and buyers!) for their creations: towering papier mache motorcycles, paintings created by “boxing” the canvas and graphic novels depicting their own troubled relationship, is both tender and finely-crafted.  Rating: 3 shots of sake

“Byzantium”–Irish Goth with some serious teeth

In one week, I found myself viewing two vampire films!  Both closer in spirit to “The Hunger” or “Let The Right One In” than “Buffy” or “Twilight”; “Kiss of the Damned” is a campy affair by a first-time filmmaker but “Byzantium” is a classy, Gothic drama helmed by Neil Jordan.  Outstanding performances by the female leads, the beautiful and very sexy, Gemma Arterton and the other-worldly, wiser-than-her-years, Saoirse Ronan bring this British Turn of the Century vampire tale to life.

Period costumes, a unique creation story and the always excellent, Sam Riley, add to this dark story of teen angst.  What to do when your mother turns your home into a house of ill repute  to support you?  When your boyfriend already looks like a vampire (Caleb Landry Jones) but your writing teacher suspects that your creative writing assignment might cut too close to the truth?  Rating: 4 glasses of red, red wine

“Ernest et Celestine”–Can a Bear and a Mouse be friends?

This delightful French 2-D animation has lovely water-color painted backdrops and a sweet story of two unlikely friends trying to survive in a world where creatures  keep to their own kind.  A small misstep in an over-long central bit spent in the mouse dental office but the drawings are so charming that it’s easily forgiven.  One of my favorite films of the festival, “Ernest et Celestine” is a charming film suited for all ages.

Rating: 4 cups of cocoa