2015 may have been the year of Furiosa, but women continued to experience trouble in the film industry as a whole. A recent university study underscored just how underrepresented women are in film and TV: Not only did were they featured in less than a third of the number of speaking roles (a percentage that’s actually decreased in recent years), but women only accounted for 1.9% of directors, 11.2% of writers and 18.9% of producers. The disparity is so glaring that the ACLU has requested a federal investigation, which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appears to be prepping.
Such are (some of) the circumstances that prompted the Bath Film Festival to look for a way to highlight the women-led entries in its lineup. In 2014, festival director Holly Tarquini created the F (for “female) rating, which was added to any film that was written or directed by a woman, or featured “significant women [characters] on screen in their own right”. And BBC News reports that the Bechdel-like classification will return for this year’s Bath Film Festival (which takes place over the next three weekends), appearing in the descriptions for such films as A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Grandma, Goodnight Mommy, and The Assassin.
Having a separate or additional classification for women-led efforts is nothing new for film festivals, which often feature a category for women-made films. But while the F rating isn’t necessarily a seal of approval, neither is it just another bit of information to gloss over (like the age rating). Tarquini told BBC News that she hopes it will act like the Fairtrade rating, inspiring moviegoers to “look at two films and say: ‘Let’s go and see the F-rated one because that supports women in film’.”
The F rating has already made its way into independent cinemas and other film festivals in the U.K. Some theater owners, while interested, are waiting for the rating to be refined, with one proprietor telling BBC News that she’d prefer a more implicit indication of the film’s quality or Bechdel results. And theater chains are resisting it altogether; UK Cinema Association’s chief executive, Phil Clapp, told BBC News that adopting the rating would be more off-putting than inclusive.
“The vast majority of our members would find such a blunt ‘quality stamp’ unattractive, not least in that the suggested approach would exclude a large number of films which are about women and/or which promote gender equality, while including others which are unarguably less sympathetic to that agenda. As a result, this is something few cinema operators would wish to involve themselves in, the general sense being that it’s not the way forward on these issues.”
In Sweden, dozens of cinemas have had their own A rating, which indicates that a film has passed the Bechdel test, for about two years now. The A rating faces similar criticism there, including concerns about government intrusion in art (seriously). The application of the F rating to films that deserve it wouldn’t prohibit movies that lack the letter from being screened anywhere—and again, doesn’t speak to the quality of the storylines for women or production of the movies—so it’s hard to see the harm or good it will do.