This article is part of a commentary that has been published in Varsity, the University of Cambridge newsletter. The original can be viewed here.
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!
The fact remains that there are still movies created in 2017 that fail the Bechdel test. It’s a simple criterion, 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 a 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.
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