Swedish cinemas give movies a 'Bechdel' rating: Good idea?

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We all know the Bechdel Test by now, right? Well, if not, it’s cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s three-pronged test to judge female characters in movies. Do more than two female characters have a name? Do they speak to each other? And, if the two named female characters have a conversation, is it about something other than a man?

But the “test” has basically only existed as a discussion point that we blog about occasionally as we wax poetic on the state of substantive roles for women. A few Swedish art house theaters would like to change that.

Last month, four theaters in Sweden launched a new Bechdel-based rating system, supported by the state-funded Swedish Film Institute. To get an “A,” the movie must pass the test. “The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction, and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of one of the participating theaters, in an interview with the AP.

According to the article, Viasat Film, a Scandinavian TV channel, is planning to use the ratings in its film reviews and has also scheduled a day of programming (Nov. 17) that will feature only movies that pass the test. These include The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady, and Savages.

The Bechdel Test has become a cultural litmus test that’s a great conversation starter because it’s such an elegantly simple metric and designed with the best of intentions. But it’s hardly enough to give a definitive answer on the feminist qualities of any particular movie. Just look at the films released this year. Gravity, for example, fails the test completely. Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone is the only woman in the film. The enormously silly Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters passes with flying colors — as does Evil Dead, a movie that features vines brutally raping a female character. Thor: The Dark World is more complicated. Sure, Jane (Natalie Portman) and Darcy (Kat Dennings) speak to each other about science-y things — but if it’s all related to Thor, does it count?

What do you think, PopWatchers? Is this a useful additional rating that U.S. theaters should adopt? Or is it a gimmick that doesn’t actually help discern the quality of a film? Would you ever avoid a movie based on its Bechdel Test failure? Do any of you know which Harry Potter movie passes? Sound off in the comments!


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