Why The F-Rating Is So Important For Films

By Holly Tarquini.

When I was 8, what I wanted, more than anything in the world, was to live life as a boy.

I renamed myself George: everyone had to call me George: my family, my friends, my grandparents, my teachers: I wouldn’t answer to Holly, only to George.

When I was 8, I was also very disruptive at school: I used to fall off my chair in class, make jokes through lessons and generally misbehave. My school, in their wisdom, sent me to a psychologist to see what was wrong with me. My mother also asked the psychologist why I wanted to be a boy, and I LOVE the reply ….

“with regard to your query about Holly wanting to be a boy, I think this is a lass who is highly original and imaginative and sees that boys have much more exciting lives (climbing mountains, canoeing down the Amazon) and I suspect that you may have a future Lady Hester Stanhope on your hands. Perhaps we can discuss this aspect later but what a fascinating girl she is.”

What the psychologist was recognizing was that I wanted to be the hero of my own story: I didn’t want to be the eye candy, or the side kick, the mother, or the love interest, and I DEFINETLY didn’t want to be the damsel in distress. I didn’t want to be defined by my looks and only in relationship to a male lead, I wanted to be the lead, the adventurer, the protagonist of my own story.

The reason that I chose the name George was because my favourite stories of the time were the Famous Five which has a character called Georgina Kirran who wants to be a boy and insists on being called George.

Now, flash forward a few years (!) and I’m in Bath, running the FilmBath Festival.

Back in 2014 there were two news stories which we were talking about in the festival office. The first was the report which comes out every year and had once again shown that of the top 250 films in both the US and the UK fewer than 5% of them had been directed by women.

Now let’s think about that for a second. 

95% of the stories we most watch on-screen are told by men.

And not just by men but by middle-class, middle-aged, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gendered, American white men. That is a very narrow viewpoint through which we see the stories which arguably influence us the most.

The other news story which came out at that time was about Ellen Tejle: she was running three cinemas in Stockholm and had decided to highlight films which passed the Bechdel Test.

Related: Why The World Needs Women To Step Up

I am sure that you know the Bechdel Test but in case you don’t, it is not a test, it’s a comic from 1985 by Alison Bechdel, which shows two women walking down the road. One says to the other do you want to see a movie and grab some popcorn?  The other replies: I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements: one it has to have two women on-screen who two have a conversation with each other about three something other than man.

This inspired Elspeth one of the  Programming Team at FilmBath Festival, she had the brilliant idea of highlighting all the films in the 2014 festival which passed The Bechtel Test.

I LOVE the Bechdel test; it is a really fun way to illustrate how much films are about male protagonists with women serving only to progress their stories. 

However, the Bechdel Test is NOT a test, it is a joke and there are films which look as though they SHOULD pass The Bechdel Test, such as Gravity, Fargo and Black Swan, and films which DO pass and definitely do not have great female protagonists such as The Godfather Part 2, Schindler’s List, Bikini Car Wash and a huge amount of porn directed by and for men.

The test only asks if women are visible in the film and then only for a moment. I wanted to highlight films where the storytellers were women: because who tells the story inevitably influences what happens on screen.

So I came up with the F-Rating.

The F-Rating is awarded to all films which are directed and or written by a woman.

We would use the F-Rating at FilmBath Festival to signpost audience members to films directed and written by women: if the film is both directed and written by women, and stars significant women in their own right and the film receives a Triple F-Rating, which is our gold standard.

When we launched the F-Rating at the 2014 FilmBath Festival, we thought that, if we were lucky we would get a bit of local media attention: that the Bath Chron might feature the F-Rating in an article about Bath Film Festival.

They didn’t.

But every broadsheet in the country did!

We were in The Sunday Time, The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, on the BBC homepage, in Elle, in Marie Claire: the F-Rating was featured in Italian magazines, Chinese newspapers, American magazines and in the culture secretary – Ed Vaizey’s dispatches. I even did an interview on Swedish radio!

The F-Rating really captured popular attention. 

The following year, in 2015, I invited all of the independent cinemas and film festivals in the UK to F-Rate their programs. There are now over 80 organisations in the UK, Europe and America which used the F-Rating to highlight films directed and written by women; these organisations include The Barbican in London, Raindance Film Festival and even the Irish Film Institute. 

The reason this is important is because films written and directed by women have significantly less spent on their promotion than films written and directed by men.

Frequently, we don’t even hear about films directed and written by women EVEN WHEN THEY ARE BRILLIANT. 

When local cinemas and film festivals present these films and use the F- Rating as a kind of fair trade stamp, it shines a light on them and makes them MUCH easier to find.

It means that audiences can proactively choose to watch films written and directed by women.

In 2016 I was invited to deliver a TEDXTalk about the F-Rating which raised the profile of the rating and helped people to understand the purpose and intention of the rating – that it is like a Fair Trade stamp used by exhibitors and audiences to sign post people to films which are directed and/or written by women.

Then in 2017, amazingly, IMDb – the Internet movie database, the biggest film website in the world by MILLIONS – they have over 250 MILLION unique visitors a month – added the keyword F-Rated to over 24,000 films.

The world’s press blew up again – though now that included some trolling of me and the rating and a fair number of “why isn’t there an “m”-Rating” questions – the VAST majority was positive and supportive. Interestingly the loudest people attacking the rating are American feminist to whom an F-rating means to fail. Of course the vast majority of feminist in the USA and around the world have been supportive, and there have been many Americans who thought the similarity with a “fail” was an intentional irony.

Being able to search IMDb for F-Rated titles means that it is even easier for us as film watchers to find films directed and written by women: and the variety is of course amazing: every genre, every type of film you could imagine is in there.

My ambition for the F-Rating is that it will become redundant: that half the population with be fairly represented on screen and behind the camera.

My personal ambition is that my daughters and their children will find a huge range of protagonists in the stories they see, and that they won’t feel as though they have to change gender in order to be the hero of their own stories.

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Holly Tarquini is the founder of the F-Rating. She wants diversity in film-making, both on and off screen.The F stands for feminist as the intention of the rating is to achieve equality on and off screen. The rating is intersectional.

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