More than just a sidekick

Star Wars’ Princess Leia after being rescued by Luke Skywalker (left) and Han Solo (right)     (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars’ Princess Leia after being rescued by Luke Skywalker (left) and Han Solo (right) (Lucasfilm)

A new film rating system based on the equality of female roles could cause significant changes on the big screen.

“I think by focusing on women there’s a good chance to get adult cinema back again, because that’s what adult cinema is about,” said Steward Donovan, English and Irish studies professor at St. Thomas.

Speaking roles for women in movies have dropped to their lowest point in five years. However, four cinema houses in Sweden came forward with a new rating system that ranks films based on the equality of the female roles.

The controversy came to feminist film critics, and now for the first time is an official measure, which seeks to change certain perceptions of women and to promote more diverse films with female characters as strong and interesting as male roles.

Designed to expose the existing gender bias in movies, the new classification system is based on the Bechdel Test, an occurrence of the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who protested the lack of female characters in 1985 through comic strips.

In order to get an “A rating,” films must pass the three rules of the Bechdel test. The films need to have at least two women in it. These two women must talk to each other. And, thirdly, talk about something else than a man.

Films like Pulp Fiction, The Social Network and trilogies like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars fail the test. It’s estimated that only 33 per cent of the characters in films are played by women and only 11 per cent are protagonists.

Sweden had implemented such measures for advertising to combat sexism, by penalizing companies that encourage the existence of gender stereotypes. In addition, a project called Equalisters encouraged the presence of specialist women in the media not only in Sweden, but Finland and Norway.

Nonetheless, this wave hasn’t arrived to Canada. A new study called Focus on Women 2013 shows that whether onscreen or behind the scenes, Canadian women’s careers are often failing to keep up with those of their male counterparts.

The report from the Canadian Unions for Equality on Screen (CUES) shows there are “systemic barriers” to advancement in both creative and decision-making areas in the independent production sector in film, TV and digital platforms.

According to STU professor Donovan, the new Scandinavian approach is a harsh sale in Canada and the United States.

“I’ve been preaching this business of the treatment women in cinema for a long time and you have to look hard to see, they’re out there, but you’ve really got to look for them,” Donovan said. “If they do this, what they mean is that they’re going to force people to deal with women’s cinismo [cynicism].”

Donovan said the central motive in the Hollywood hills for years has been to create films for children and teenagers. By going to the cinema, they are looking to understand human sexuality, be stimulated or simply fascinated by it.

He said the reason why there is so much violence in the PG-13 movies right now is because of the video games phenomena.

“Movies became the prerogative of 16-year-old boys,” Donovan said. “They are marketing that violence to this kids and that is all very pathetic.”

In his opinion, that’s the constant battle between Art Cinema and Hollywood movies, the entertainment industry in America controls the production of films that promotes the trivialization of women.

He said the real tragedy in Hollywood is that all the great actors and actresses don’t get the chance to be on the screen because of the obscenity of the money and how resources are spent.

“What they need is support by the government and it’s hard on Harper to get any kind of support,” Donovan said.

Donovan said it would be interesting for Canada to adopt the new film rating, as Canadian film production is minimal and heavily influenced by the United States movies industry.

Laura Fraser, a sociology and women’s studies third year student at St. Thomas, said she loves the new system.

“This system is so important because it will hopefully press movie producers to strive for women characters with more depth,” Fraser said. “It’s true that a common guilty pleasure for women is romantic comedies, yet always in the end they get the guy or there is a hint of another guy coming into the picture.”

“This absolutely affects women subliminally into believing that the goal at the end of the day is finding a man and not necessarily following your dreams and becoming everything you’ve strived for.”

According to the women’s studies TA, it would be ideal to have a similar system to the Swedish approach came to Canada and the United States to push movie producers towards more equal producing environment.

“More and more people are realizing that there is a need for powerful women in the media and there has been some successful movies and television shows but it would be amazing if we lived in a world where women were represented as more than the sidekick or the guy obsessed woman,” Fraser said.

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