Rated F for strong female role models

A progressive, helpful feature has come to IMDb: the ‘F’ rating. Tom Atkinson takes us through just what this means - both for the website itself, and for women in the industry

20th March 2017

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has introduced a new ‘F-rating’ to help indicate those films which have a larger proportion of women working on their production. The scheme was first proposed by Holly Tarquini – the director of the Bath Film Festival – as a way of increasing awareness of which films are more inclusive in their production. Tarquini said (to an unattributed source) that “The F-rating is intended to make people talk about the representation of women on and off screen.”

So far, according to the Independent, IMDb have awarded 21,800 films an F-rating. The rating can be applied based on three criteria: the film is directed by a woman, written by a woman or features significant women on screen in their own right. Films awarded currently include Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moana and The Girl on the Train. According to Tarquini, “[their] real goal is to reach the stage when the F-rating is redundant because 50% of the stories we see on screen are told by and about […] women.”

“Love stories sell, but the women will be talking about men, so unfortunately appear dependent on them”

I believe that the award – presently – is useful. It is accepted that Hollywood and the wider industry is shambolically diversity-poor. Representation of women lags behind other industries in almost every way. Production staff are predominantly male, stories are predominantly male-oriented and female parts frequently adopt a lower standing compared with male parts. In the latter, this could be attributed to commercial pressure. Love stories sell well. There’s a well-worn plot cliché of ‘boy-meets-girl’, something which at first glance may appear to be reasonably inclusive. However, most of the time the women will be talking about men, and so are dependent on men.

“Encouragement is needed for all to get into film production, and this rating may help”

Tarquini’s drive to get 50% representation does jar with me a little, however. By imposing quotas we run the risk of introducing discrimination in the pursuit of removing it. It will only serve to ruffle the feathers of those opposed to the mission, and hurt the ability of people to feel free in their creative pursuits. Rather than imposing a quota, perhaps we should focus on enlightenment – showing people why they should care and what benefits they can reap if they sow the seeds.

I think the rating could go further, as currently Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker are tagged with it. It’s widely acknowledged that these films are hardly shining beacons of equality. Frankly, they outwardly appear to oppose equality as they present and normalise an abusive relationship. Additionally, whilst the rating does a good job of starting the discussion, in isolation it cannot solve the problem. Encouragement is needed for all to get into film production – be they acting, writing, directing, producing or simply working behind the camera.

Also, the rating addresses one subset of a greater issue, the lack of diversity of all kinds in the industry. People of different genders and none, disabled people, people of colour, ethnic and religious minorities and people with different sexualities and/or sexual expressions all need to be included – especially if someone belongs to more than one of those groups. If it is true that life imitates art then by making art inclusive we can hope, perhaps, the images of inclusivity will rub off on the population and help make the world a little more tolerable for oppressed and underrepresented groups of people.

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