Swedish cinemas tackle gender bias head on

When you head to the cinema to watch a new movie, what kind of warning do you expect to be included? Sex, profanity, nudity and violence are all a given, but now it seems that gender bias could be next on the list. Cinemas in Sweden are introducing a brand new rating which highlights if a movie is gender biased.

Bechdel Testing in Swedish cinemas

In the new system, to get an A rating a movie must pass the Bechdel test, meaning that if the film does not have at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man, the film will not make the grade.

Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm was one of four Swedish cinemas which launched the new rating last month, with intent to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel Test. The director of the cinema, Ellen Tejle, explains that the initiative has been a real eye opener for a lot of people:

“The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test.”

Films which do pass the test are The Hunger Games, Savages and The Iron Lady.

Now obviously plenty of people will be outraged by the new rating, claiming that creativity and freedom of expression will go down the drain, that the feminists of the world are sucking the joy out of the world, and we’re this close to living in a nanny state blah blah blah. Don’t mistake it for more than it is though. The rating isn’t telling filmmakers how to make their movies. It’s also not a comment on the quality of the film and won’t prevent you from picking and choosing based on your own prerogative.

The aim is to simply highlight to audiences how often there is gender imbalance in cinema. One we’ve probably not even noticed, too used to the societal norms of patriarchy.

The Bechdel Test is not without its flaws of course, because the focus is too narrow. The Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas said: “There are far too many films that pass the Bechdel test that don’t help at all in making society more equal or better, and lots of films that don’t pass the test but are fantastic at those things.”

Tejle claims that the cinema has a big impact on our beliefs, and that a woman’s role in society is influenced unconsciously by the fact we have set gender roles in cinema. How often do we see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them? The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens.”

The state-funded Swedish Film Institute has backed the initiative. Will it catch on, or does it at the very least need a revision in order to make its point better?


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