Ever since a Stockholm art cinema launched the initiative several weeks ago, the idea of classifying films according to the presence of women in them has been sweeping the world’s movie theaters, with dozens of festivals and cinemas getting in touch to copy the Swedes’ model.
The scheme is based on the so-called Bechdel test, which has three simple criteria for assessing a movie’s gender bias: there must be at least one scene in which at least two women have a conversation with each other about a subject other than men.
And worryingly few films pass it, according to the Bio Rio movie theater in Stockholm, which, along with four other Swedish cinemas, has come up with a classification and a logo to indicate movies that make the grade. “In 2010 we saw very few that passed it,” says Bio Rio director Esther Tejle. “It didn’t matter which genre they were or what country they came from. We realized it was a problem with the system.”
Data from the New York Film Academy shows that only 30.8 percent of actors who speak in movies are women — a third of whom appear partially naked or in sexually revealing clothes.
The figures for Spanish film show little improvement. According to the 2008 study La situación de mujeres y hombres en el audiovisual español (The situation of women and men in Spanish film), 61.8 percent of lead characters in Spanish movies are men, while nine in every 10 homegrown films have male directors. The rule tends to be that filmmakers choose main characters of their own gender, though the percentage of women directors who choose male stars is 10 points higher than that of men who choose female stars.
“It’s not just that male directors’ films star men, it’s also that in quite a lot of them the women are almost invisible or represent a ridiculous proportion of the total of characters who appear in the film,” the report reads. This is the case in Spanish movies such as Alatriste, Bad Education and Torrente 2. The consequence is that Spanish films present a “distorted” world where women are underrepresented.
“There are many films in which only one female character appears, such as the recent Zipi y Zape, which, what’s more, is for children,” says Isabel de Ocampo of CIMA, which brings together women in the film industry. “But the big problem is the image given of them. The woman is usually a focus of conflict; a supporting character [...] who is an excuse to get the main action going.”