Wed, Sep 21, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Festival pushes gender equality

BEIJING AND THE WORLD:China Women’s Film Festival organizers want to see Chinese film producers and firms to implement the Bechdel Wallace test to improve female roles


China Women’s Film Festival chairman Li Dan, left, speaks as international coordinator Cyrielle Nifle listens during the opening ceremony of the festival in Beijing on Saturday last week.

Photo: AP

In films, women and girls are much more likely to take off their clothes than male actors and to be scantily clad in the first place, studies show. Less than a third of speaking characters are female and men outnumber women behind the camera by a ratio of five to one.

Campaigners are highlighting this gender inequality in film at the China Women’s Film Festival that runs until Sunday in Beijing, arguing that the phenomenon distorts views of women and the world, and that the male-dominated film industry repeats the same mistakes out of habit.

The nine-day festival features more than 30 Chinese and international films about women’s rights, women’s achievements and gay women. The festival’s films are then scheduled to be shown in more than 10 cities across China.

Festival chairman Li Dan (李丹) said the aim was to increase the representation of women in film at a time when Chinese audiences have apparently accepted gender inequality in movies.

“Usually people and audiences have the idea that female characters should be pretty, be looking for a good marriage or a rich man or a Mr Right, and if the movie follows that path it will have a good box office,” said Li, who works for Crossroads Center Beijing, a nonprofit working with marginalized groups and the festival organizer. “Very few movies have strong female roles and characters.”

Hollywood actresses have also spoken out about a lack of good roles for women and the gender pay gap, among them Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, who starred in the festival’s opening film Suffragette, about British women’s fight for the vote in the early 20th century.

In the last three years, a campaign has gradually been gaining ground to raise awareness of the unequal representation of men and women in movies based on the Bechdel Wallace test, which started out as a joke in a 1986 comic book.

To pass the test, a film must have two female characters with names who talk to each other in the film about something other than men.

Films that fail the test include Avatar, Slumdog Millionaire and The Jungle Book.

Li said that at the end of the festival they plan to write an open letter signed by at least 50 celebrities to major Chinese film producers and cinema companies calling on them to use the test in the hope that it will affect the type of films that are produced and raise awareness of gender inequality in film and society. He also hopes to attract tens of thousands of signatures from the public.

The sponsors of the festival include the embassies of the Netherlands, Norway, France, Sweden and the UK and the EU delegation.

Other independent film festivals have run into trouble from Chinese authorities, but Li said they did not choose films with politically sensitive topics, such as the recently loosened one-child policy.

Although China’s constitution enshrines gender equality, some nongovernmental groups promoting women’s rights have been closed over the last 18 months amid a more general crackdown on political activism.

Ellen Tejle, who runs an arthouse cinema in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, launched the “A-rate” campaign three years ago to encourage producers, movie theaters and the public to submit a film to the Bechdel Wallace gender bias test.

At the China Women’s Film Festival, Tejle said that internationally, 7 percent of directors are women and women have 30 percent of the speaking roles — and this has not changed since the 1940s.

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