Thu, May 02, 2019 - Page 14 News List

‘If she can see it, she can be it’

The newly-launched FilmEQ.org seeks to educate audiences about gender equality in Chinese-language cinema

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

According to FilmEQ.org, last year’s box office and critical hit Dear Ex does not pass the Bechdel test for gender equality, despite having a strong female protagonist.

Photo courtesy of Dear Studio

If movies are an accurate reflection of life, then only 30.9 percent of the human population would be female.

That’s the percentage of speaking or named female characters in popular movies worldwide, according to a 2014 study published by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a leading US-based non-profit research organization.

This sobering reality is behind the launch of the Web site FilmEQ.org, a volunteer initiative based in Taiwan that seeks to raise awareness of gender inequality in Chinese-language cinema.

Gender inequality in film refers to the uneven representation of men and women in numerical but also qualitative terms. Just 23.3 percent of film protagonists worldwide are female, meaning that for every one movie about a woman’s story, there are three about men’s stories.

Women who do appear on screen remain susceptible to being nameless and voiceless, and being portrayed in a sexist or misogynist light.

“Whatever we watch has a really insidious effect on the way we view society and the way we view each other, sometimes even the way we view ourselves,” says Louise Watt, the founder of FilmEQ.org.

This sentiment is captured even more pithily in the slogan of the Geena Davis Institute: “If she can see it, she can be it.”

The influence of popular culture starts young and extends into adulthood. Watt, a former journalist from the UK, recalls that she was well into her 20s the first time she watched a movie with realistic female characters to whom she could relate.

The experience gave her a taste of “how 14-year-old boys must feel like every time they go and watch Spiderman,” Watt says. It was the first inkling of what she and other female moviegoers had been missing out on.

BECHDEL TEST

FilmEQ.org uses a quick measure of gender equality called the Bechdel test, named for Alison Bechdel, the American cartoonist who first introduced the public to this basic but effective tool in a comic strip in 1985.

The Bechdel test asks three questions: Does the movie have at least two female characters with names? Do the two female characters talk to each other? Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

FilmEQ.org runs on submissions by members of the public, who review a movie’s performance based on the three questions in the Bechdel test. A movie that fulfills all three criteria receives a green tick of honor on the FilmEQ.org database, indicating that it is gender-equal.

Watt acknowledges that the Bechdel test is an imperfect measure of gender equality, but says that it remains the single most memorable and easy-to-use tool of its kind. And despite its simplicity, the results can be unexpected.

Last year, Dear Ex (誰先愛上他的), a film by female director Mag Hsu (徐譽庭) and co-director Hsu Chih-yan (許智彥), was lauded for its empathetic depiction of a gay relationship and Hsieh Ying-hsuan’s (謝盈萱) star turn as a feisty widow and single mother, for which she won Best Actress at last year’s Golden Horse Awards.

Yet despite being progressive in LGBTQ representation and having a strong female protagonist, Dear Ex fails the Bechdel test. Hsieh’s character is the only woman with a name, and when she talks to other women, it’s always about her late husband.

Director Lin Ching-chieh (林靖傑) has made two feature films, both with female protagonists, and says that he always considered himself a filmmaker who pays attention to women’s stories and perspectives. But he was surprised to learn that The Most Distant Course (最遙遠的距離), his debut feature film starring Kuei Lun-mei (桂綸鎂), did not pass the Bechdel test.

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