THE SWEDISH FILM RATING AGAINST SEXISM (AND DISNEY’S FROZEN)

Time does fly… I first read about the new Swedish film rating system against sexism back in November, made a note to discuss it here but then other topics caught my attention. I don’t understand Swedish and I’ll have to rely, therefore, on English-language media for an explanation of how the rating system works. Have a look at, for instance, Charlotte Higgins’ “No sexism please, we’re Swedish – films classified by representation of women” published at The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/sexism-swedish-cinemas-films-women). Basically, the idea is that films get an A-rating if they pass the Bechdel test, which I described two posts ago when discussing Pacific Rim: an acceptably pro-feminist movie should: 1) have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. As Higgins’ panoramic article proves, the test is too crude, too blunt, and so is the rating –a more nuanced system is needed or, rather, a massive upheaval of the male-dominated media industry all over the world.

Higgins mentions in passing a piece of Swedish legislation on gender equality in the film industry. A note in English on the website of the Swedish Film Institute (https://www.sfi.se/en-GB/Statistics/Gender-equality/) informs that “The current National Film Agreement for 2013-2015 contains an equality directive which states that ‘the funding shall be divided equally between women and men’ in the key positions of director, screenwriter and producer in those projects which receive funding from the Swedish Film Institute.” The statistics they offer are not, however, that encouraging. For the period 2000-2005, of all the feature-length films released in Sweden, only 17% had been directed by women; for 2006-2012, this was up to 18% but for 2012 alone the figure was just 7% (for women screenwriters, the corresponding figures are 25%, 28% and 19%). According to CIMA (Asociación de Mujeres Cineastas y de Medios Audiovisuales), the percentage of women directors in Spain is also 7% (just 10% membership of the Director’s Guild of America, remember, corresponds to women).

Turn now for Frozen, the new Disney movie. Frozen, a free adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” has been both defended and attacked on feminist grounds (Jennifer Lee, the screenwriter, maintains she has penned a feminist story). This controversy shows that not even we, feminists, agree on what films may offer positive role models for young girls in the 21st century. I guess Frozen has been awarded an A rating by the Swedes as the movie is about two young women who have much to discuss which does not concern men and, so, passes the Bechdel test. My own personal position is that although Frozen encourages women to revise the notion of ‘true love’ beyond the usual heterosexual couple, to encompass love among women (sisters in this case), the message is still couched in the horrid idiolect of Disney’s princess cult. I saw the film with my two little nieces and, frankly, I didn’t see them look at each other lovingly when the film finished –I saw them mesmerised as usual by the stupid glamorisation of a pathetic fairy-tale lifestyle.

I totally disagree that princesses can be empowering figures and prefer as an alternative spunky Vanellope von Schweetz. When she wins the race at the end of Disney’s own Wreck-it Ralph (2012) and finds herself hailed ‘Princess’ by her Sugar Rush subjects, she quickly sheds off her pink garb plus tiara and declares: “I’m thinking more along the lines of constitutional democracy. President Vanellope Von Schweetz! Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” Of course it does. Women are much needed to radically change the face of politics, for our own empowerment and to challenge patriarchal power, including that wielded by women (Christine Lagarde runs the IFM, Angela Merkel the EU). As the Swedes assess the benefits of their new rating system, do consider who you want you daughter to grow up into. (I wonder what the current European royal princesses tell their daughters about their Disney’s counterparts!!).

A last word: the Swedish rating system condemns wholesale all films that focus only on men. I do not agree that a film is sexist because it has no women in it –actually, the sexist films are usually those with just one woman in them. Paradoxically, films which deal exclusively with women are called ‘feminist’ whether they are so or not, whereas those with only men are beginning to be called ‘sexist.’ I agree that there is an acute imbalance in the representation of men and women on the screen but I don’t want men to be forced to give up their own stories for the sake of a censoring feminism. I do want them, though, to make room for women in the media industry until we are 50%, for we are 50% (or slightly more) of the human species.

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