A Feminist Tag for Films and Its Founder Holly Tarquini

DENVER AND BATH, ENGLAND VIA SKYPE: While selecting programming for the 2014 Bath Film Festival, the director and festival head Holly Tarquini devised an innovative idea: create an F-Rating for films (the “F” is an abbreviation for feminism). The idea came to her after Elspeth Hinde, one of the women on her team, suggested they add a tag to all the films in the festival that pass the Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test), which is not so much a test as a commentary on gender inequity in media made by graphic artist Alison Bechdel in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985.

The gist of the Bechdel test is that a film should have two women on screen having a conversation with each other about something other than a man. “That’s genius,” was Ms. Tarquini’s response to Ms. Hinde. However, she wanted to take it a step farther by adding two additional criteria that felt critical to her. For a film to receive an F-Rating, in addition to passing the Bechdel test, it must either be directed or written by a woman. If the film has all three, it receives a Triple F-Rating, which is rare in current cinema.

According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, of the over 1,500 content creators, just seven percent of directors, 13 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers are female. The F-Rated system aims to change those numbers by amplifying conversations about gender equality, female representation and female participation in films and the filmmaking process. Since she launched the F-Rated system Ms. Tarquini has seen noticeable progress, pointing to the Cannes Film Festival that opened Wednesday which in the past has been criticized for sexism. “They’re not doing too badly this year,” she said in an interview with she-files. “They’ve got 40 percent F-Rated, which is a massive increase from past years.” Ms. Tarquini is keen to have all festivals adopt the F-Rating because as soon as they adopt the system it inevitably leads to more F-Rated films. Over Skype, Ms. Tarquini spoke about gender equality in films and her favorite Triple F-Rated films out in 2017. EXCERPTS:


KIRSCH FELDKAMP: What made you want to create the F-Rating?

TARQUINI: Looking into the Bechdel test, it doesn’t tell you anything about who is telling the story on screen and that’s the thing that I really care about because the life experience of the person telling the story (the directors, the writers) is obviously massively influential to the story that’s being told and the characters that feature. There are incredibly few of those films, especially in the public eye. Because [films] have the potential to be massively influential, if they’re all being directed predominantly by one kind of person and that kind of person is a white, middle-class, middle-aged, heterosexual, cisgendered man, it’s quite niche.


The average person doesn’t think about how it works on a subconscious level?

After “Brave” and the “Hunger Games” [in 2012] there was a massive uptick in girls taking up archery. When there were female forensics scientists in television series the number of women applying to be forensic scientists went up. There really is that correlation between seeing it and being it, and if consistently women are predominately represented as objects only in relation to the male need, scantily clad, much younger and perfect then that really skews how audiences see themselves and how girls and women weave their own inner narratives.


What would you say to people who wonder what’s wrong with most movies being written and directed by men?

That it is only giving us one perspective. That human lives are interesting and complex and in most walks of lives, certainly in Western life in the Americas and [Britain] and Europe, we expect a certain amount of equality between the genders and that equality isn’t represented in who directs the movies. So it isn’t a little bit unbalanced. It isn’t that it’s 70 percent men and 30 percent women, which even that isn’t a little unbalanced; it’s more than 95 percent male [directors] and that’s clearly massively skewed.


Over 40 cinemas and film festivals in the UK F-Rate their programme: this shows some of the staff at Plymouth Art Centre F-Rating the Triple F-Rated “Mustang.”

Has the F-Rating excited people?

It really has captured the public imagination far more than I ever thought that it would and I think it’s because it’s of its time. So back in the 1980s and 1990s, certainly across Europe, lots of production companies signed contracts to say that they would have equal opportunities, that they were going to have as many female directors in the companies as men, and none of them really did it. They didn’t make the changes and so then there was a level of complacency, of saying “we’ve got equality, women can have it all” and the wrong belief that film is a meritocracy [and] if you have the talent and the ability you will rise to the top and become a director. So, the F-Rating came along at the same time that everybody recognized that that complacency wasn’t achieving anything.


IMDb (Internet Movie Database)–an online database of information on movies, TV shows and more–recently adopted the F-Rating. That must have been a big deal for you.

It’s amazing and the number of films keeps growing. Something like 22,900 films have the F-Rating tag attached to them [now] and it’s fantastic because there are a huge variety of films in there from massive blockbuster to quirky art house indie and everything in between.


However, numbers are quite small on IMDb, although some of my favorite films are included like “Whale Rider,” “Frozen,” “The Piano” and “Little Women.”

Well, that’s mainly because we haven’t added very many Triple F-Rated [yet]. Not all the films that should be F-Rated [let alone Triple F-Rated] on IMDb are because [it] is a value judgment. The third criterion of the F-Rating is intentionally debatable. [It’s meant] to amplify conversations about representation on screen.


Do you see the F-Rating extending to TV shows?

It would work really well across television programs and, in fact, in Bath the comedy festival F-Rates its program, the literature festival F-Rates its program and the music festival F-Rates its program. The issue at the moment is that it’s just me. So anything that happens basically happens in my spare time.

What are some of your favorite F-Rated movies?

[Of] the ones that are coming out this year, “Their Finest.” It’s a British movie, it’s Triple F-Rated and it’s a great film set during the World War II. It’s about inherent sexism at the time but it’s really light touch. “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is Triple F-Rated. “Pitch Perfect 3” (which is coming out at the end of the year) is Triple F-Rated. Those are the three big mainstream Triple F-Rated films. My recent favorite, which [isn’t] mainstream [is] “Prevenge.” Alice Lowe directed it, wrote it, and starred in it when she was seven months pregnant.


by Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp

Images courtesy of Holly Tarquini. Featured image: Holly Tarquini, director of the Bath Film Festival and founder of the F-Rated.


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