[actually, it stands for Feminist! – ed]
10:41AM GMT 14 Nov 2014
The Bath Film Festival has introduced a new ‘F’ rating for films with strong female credentials – whether the stars, directors or plot. Radhika Sanghani asks the festival’s producer whether it’s really necessary
When it comes to judging a film – beyond it’s cast and plot – the only available indicator is its age rating. But, while they’re helpful for families, by the time you’ve surpassed 18, chances are you’ll barely notice them.
That might just be about to change. There could be a new film benchmark one that will be relevant to us all: the ‘F’ rating,
‘F’ essentially means ‘female’. It would only be awarded to films that have a strong female character, director or writer. So far, it has only been implemented at the Bath Film Festival, which will introduce the new rating at its 24th annual festival happening this weekend.
The idea behind the rating is to highlight just how few films have strong female credentials. In the festival’s 10-day line-up, only 17 of the 42 films being shown have been given the ‘F’ rating.
“I was really shocked by an infographic that said of all the films that come out of Hollywood, only 4.7 per cent were directed by a woman,” explains Holly Tarquini, the festival’s producer. “I knew it was skewed in favour of men but I hadn’t clocked how massive that gap was.
“It was that massive disparity combined with how woman are represented on screen that made me want to introduce the ‘F’ rating. It doesn’t seem like it’s something people know about – so we wanted to shine a light on it.”
It’s true – the figures are appalling. A recent study by The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Filmat San Diego State University found that females made up only 15 per cent of protagonists, 29 per cent of major characters and 30 per cent of all speaking characters in the 100 top-grossing films of 2013.
But does really mean that we need a separate film rating for more gender-equal films? Should that not just be something that we aim for across the board, without reducing them to a single letter ‘F’?
“No rating hasn’t worked has it?” says Tarquini. “We could go and march in the street but I think highlighting the issue is perhaps more helpful. It’s just assigning it [the rating] so we can see the discrepancy and encourage the studios, the people that make the decision, to do something about it.
“We’re not saying that the other films aren’t good because they’re not made by women. We’re just shining a light on it and inviting people to have the conversation.”
The motives for wanting to raise awareness about the lack of female representation in film are great. We’ve seen it before with the Bechdel Test – where a film is required to have two women in it, who talk to each other about anything other than a man.
This ‘F’ rating goes further, by incorporating movies such as Gravity which had Sandra Bullock as a strong female lead, but failed the Bechdel Test because she did not speak to another woman. I love the inclusivity, but I can’t help that it does have an implied judgement – of the films that fail the ‘F’ test.
Tarquini says “it’s not a judgment.” But she does admit her personal preference: “I’m judging it. I think it’s good [to have an ‘F’ rating].”
So should the ‘F’ rating should be the goal for every movie?
“We’re not saying we always have to employ 50 per cent of women,” says.
But she later adds: “What we want is equality not imbalance. If they all had [an ‘F’ rating] that would be imbalance. We know amazing male directors and actors. I think 50/50 would seem fair, wouldn’t it?”
The goals of the rating seem slightly confused. I’m still not clear if it’s meant to show studios they should employ 50 per cent of women, or not. But what Tarquini does repeatedly stress that it’s there primarily to raise awareness.
“People want to challenge and change.
“I think just highlighting it might be enough to change things without making quotas. The public has a massive power to make changes so if you vote with your feet, maybe we can instigate change without doing things don’t seem fair or preferential.”
If the ‘F’ rating was rolled out nationally, I can imagine that it may put some men off. Is it something that Tarquini is worried about?
“I don’t know if I care,” she says. “Patriarchy has been putting me off a lot of things for a long time. So I don’t think I mind. We’re not saying that these films are only for women, or that they’re necessarily about women’s issues .
“[Any negative reaction is] indicative of why we have to keep doing it rather than a reason not to.”