The next time you are searching for movies on The Internet Movie Database, more commonly known as IMDb, you may notice a new movie rating – an F. This doesn’t mean the movie is a box office bomb or that it belongs at the top of Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a new classification that means that the film was either directed or written by a woman – or passes the Bechdel-Wallace test (a scene featuring at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man).
“The F-Rating is a great way to highlight women on screen and behind the camera,” IMDb founder and CEO Col Needham said. Invented by Bath Film Festival director Holly Tarquini in 2014, the F-rating has since been picked up by more than 40 cinemas and festivals across the UK. More than 21,000 films have already been rated, but while it’s a step in the right direction to recognize the works of women writers, directors and actors, the use of the letter “F” is leaving some directors shaking their heads.
“That’s a tough one,” said director Sasha Gordon, who has won multiple film festival awards for her feature film It Had to be You. “I remember seeing an interview with Amy Schumer after Trainwreck where she talked about resenting interviewers calling the movie a ‘female’ comedy and asking her questions that centered on her gender. I would say I probably fall into that camp. When I’m writing, though, of course my point of view is informed by my gender. I like to think that I’m writing for everyone, so I don’t know that I’d personally want my work labeled with an ‘F’.
When creating the rating, Tarquini said that she had been looking at various films to program for the Bath Festival and one of the programmers said that they could apply the Bechdel test. “At that time, fewer than five percent of the top 250 films were directed by women, which I thought was absolutely ridiculous, and not just a bit imbalanced, but massively imbalanced,” she said. “It’s just as bad now.”
The F-rating was born out of a frustration of how few women were telling stories that the festival was screening and the desire to highlight the women that were. Interestingly, the film festival still programs more films that are potentially F-rated. “The lower the budget, more women are involved,” she said. “We also screen art house and feature documentaries, and there are more women making those films than there are the massive budget, multiplex movies.”
According to Tarquini, the response has been swift. “There have been dozens of film festivals and cinemas that adopted it and I get emails everyday from people who are interested in using it in their film festival.
At venues that are using the rating, audiences can use it like a fair trade stamp to kind of select and protectively support women in film. If you haven’t got them all collated somewhere it is very difficult if you are using video on demand or you’re just deciding what to watch that night on whichever medium you choose to watch films. Being able to flick through 22,000 titles on IMDb makes it a useful tool for audiences.”
Tarquini said that the negative feedback on the rating has been mostly in the United States, where it’s believed that the “F” equates to failure. Tarquini understands this concern, but wants artists to focus on what it is supposed to stand for — female and feminist.
“Its intention is equality, so it’s not that the films are feminist – which is a kind of nuance that is again is quite difficult to get out,” she said. “However, the ambition of the rating is that it becomes obsolete, that we have 50% of the storytellers female and 50% male. At the moment, because most people live in a gender binary, it seems reasonable to demand a 50/50 split.”
Triple F-rated is the gold standard, meaning a film is written by, directed by and features significant women. But what if it’s a bad film? “A very wise person recently said, ‘If we have as many mediocre women sitting in positions of power as we have mediocre men then we will know we have equality,’” Tarquini recalled. “Women need to be allowed to make rubbish films in exactly the same way men are allowed to make rubbish films. And there are female misogynists just as there are male feminists, so your gender doesn’t define the work that you do, the beliefs that you have or the ability that you have.”
What the F-rated strand needs is financial support. In the Bath Film Festival, the F-rated strand was sponsored by Pukka tea, but going forward, the movement has no financial backing, something Tarquini would like to change. Her goal is to hire a part-timer to work on its promotion.
The F-rating has been given a lot of press around the world, even with actresses such as Emma Watson sharing the article via Twitter. “What would be brilliant is if we could just stop the kind of endemic sexism, both unconsciously and consciously, and give equal opportunities to women in film so that it is not necessary,” she said. “I’d much rather not have to do it anymore, for everybody to stop campaigning for women in film and get on with their lives really.”
Until that happens, it’s a worldwide movement to improve the number of women-made films and draw attention to them after they hit the screen. Tarquini points out that Sweden’s Anna Serner, head of the Swedish Film Institute, said she was going to give 50% of the funding to female filmmakers. “Now, they have a whole load of female filmmakers, won more awards at film festivals the moment they got to 50/50, and Swedish films did better,” she said. “What is interesting is that Hollywood doesn’t seem to follow the money. They know that female protagonists do better on the small screen but they still make films predominantly about men and boys.”
Besides her own initiative, Tarquini believes that providing equal parental leave and enforced parental leave will help to improve equality. “Until you don’t hire someone based on whether or not they’ve got a womb, we aren’t going to have equality,” she said. “There are so many brilliant and talented women that have dropped out of television and film as soon as they’ve had familiesand it’s an industry in which everybody wants to be seen as working 24/7. It is not a culture that is broader than itself, so it doesn’t emphasize the importance of community or family or external pursuits – it’s all about itself. If you’re not spending every moment on your craft, then you’re clearly not dedicated. Without equal parental leave, women are going to continue to be disadvantaged in that respect.”
FF2 Media includes reviews of all films written and/or directed by women filmmakers that open in New York City every week, already covering two of the three “Fs” by definition (with reviews always highlighting significant female characters). We already include the A-rating logo on all reviews that pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test.
We will be watching the use of the F-rating and the growth of its use closely as we continue to report on the films directed, written and starring women.
© Written by Lisa Iannucci; Interview conducted by Nicola Freedman (5/15/17) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Holly Tarquini at the Bath Film Festival
Middle Photo: Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck
Bottom Photo: Anna Serner, chief executive of the Swedish Film Institute
Photo Credits: Bath Film Festival, Apatow Productions, Peter Rae