The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) announced last week that it had adopted a system called the ‘F-rating’, intended to draw attention to films regarded as feminist.
The idea for an F-rating was introduced by Bath Film Fest director Holly Tarquini, and launched as a website and database in 2014. In the same way that age ratings guide film viewers to appropriate material, the F-rating seeks to create a political label ‘so [people] can choose films that fairly represent women on screen and behind the camera’.
The criteria used in establishing whether a film merits an F-rating is quite simple: ‘The F-Rating is applied to all films which are directed by women and/or written by women and/or have significant women on screen.’
So, what’s wrong with guiding people to films they will enjoy? After all, there are databases that list all the films featuring dogs. But the problem with the F-rating system is that, while it is capable of flagging up films judged to be sympathetic to women, it is ill-equipped to engage with and evaluate artistic content. It runs the risk of subjecting innovation to ideological concerns.
The F-rating is reminiscent of the more well-known Bechdel Test. To pass the test, a film must have at least two women in it, they must talk to each other, and they must talk to each other about something besides men. Applying this arbitrary criteria to any film quickly reveals the Bechdel Test’s shortcomings. It fails as a measure of a film’s quality and as an indicator of its feminist credentials. Most girl-on-girl pornography, for example, would pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours.
Feminist film critics are well aware that these tests are both unsubtle and unsuitable tools to understand films. These ratings are intended more as a provocation, designed to make people think about how women are depicted in film, and represented in the industry. As the F-rated website describes it: ‘The stories we see on screen need to be told by a broad spectrum of people to represent our diverse culture. Without change, we will train the next generation to only recognise white males as the protagonists and the ones in control of the cameras, scripts and budgets.’