This is the first of three dispatches from the 2016 Gothenburg International Film Festival.
The Bechdel Test is a vastly imperfect tool for gauging a film’s feminism and gender progressivism. And yet we couldn’t help cheering when four movie theaters in famously egalitarian Sweden announced back in 2013 that they would provide an "A" rating — signaled generally with a seal on a film’s poster — to features that passed cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s brief test of three questions: Are there at least two women characters with names in the film? Do they talk to each other? About something other than a man?
The best use of the Bechdel test, explains Ellen Tejle, the movie theater director and programmer who created the A rating system, is not to apply a litmus test on each individual film, but to encourage audiences to think critically about the media that they’re watching. And on that basis, her A rating system has been more than successful.
Here’s how Tejle’s modest proposal has grown and bloomed in less than three years:
–Swedish films are now 2.5x more likely to pass the Bechdel test since the A rating’s implementation. In 2013, only 30% of Swedish feature films passed the Bechdel test. The next year, that rate jumped to 60%, and in 2015, a whopping 80% of films earned an A rating seal.
–The A rating system is now a feature in 30 movie theaters. In addition to the seal seen above, consumers are informed of a film’s Bechdel test passage by a brief trailer that runs before the start of the movie. The A rating seal has also begun to appear on DVD covers.
–Students are being taught about the Bechdel test in schools. Awareness of gender and racial diversity issues in film is now an educational goal in ten Swedish cities.
–The Bechdel test has inspired more discussion about diversity as a whole. In fact, the Chavez Perez test — which determines whether two minority characters in a movie speak about something other than crime — is in the midst of implementation. Only 10% of Swedish films passed the test in 2013. (Stateside, Manohla Dargis recently proposed the "DuVernay test," to see whether "African-Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories."
Either way, here’s hoping the new test finds the triumph in Sweden that the Bechdel test has so far.