When is an F a badge of honor? In IMDb’s case, when that F stands for "female," not "fail."
The database has introduced a new classification to highlight films by or about women. Individual titles will be judged along three criteria: whether it was written by a woman, whether it was directed by a woman, and/or whether it "features significant women on screen in their own right," as explained by the official F Rated site.
A movie only needs to meet one of those three guidelines to be rated F; those that meet all three will be awarded a “Triple F” rating.
Created by Holly Tarquini of the Bath Film Festival, the F rating is intended to give female-driven projects a boost and draw attention to gender inequality in film. Since its introduction in 2014, the classification has been adopted by dozens of theaters and festivals across the U.K. and Ireland.
However, IMDb's adoption of the F rating will bring the system to a much wider audience, making it easier than ever for moviegoers to seek out and support woman-centric movies.
"It's exciting when new organizations decide to join us in shining a light both on the brilliant work women are doing in film and on how far the film industry lags behind most other industries when it comes to providing equal opportunities to women," Tarquini told the Bath Chronicle.
At time of writing, an IMDb keyword search for "F rated" pulls up 21,870 titles, including Gravity (starring Sandra Bullock), Wayne's World (directed by Penelope Spheeris), and Kill Bill (starring Uma Thurman). Recent Triple F titles include Frozen, Bridget Jones's Baby, and American Honey.
There is a catch to IMDb's adoption of the classification, though: the F rating is not featured on landing pages for individual titles, like the MPAA rating or the user rating score. Instead, users must comb through the plot keywords for a given title. It's unclear whether the site plans to display a more visible F rating symbol in the future.
Image: Clay Enos
What is clear, though, is that mainstream cinema is in dire need of active efforts like Tarquini's to even the playing field for women. Despite the prominence of female stars like Star Wars' Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones and Ghost in the Shell's Scarlett Johansson, and female filmmakers like Wonder Woman's Patty Jenkins and A Wrinkle in Time's Ava DuVernay, male leads, male directors, and male screenwriters remain very much the norm.
According to San Diego State University's annual Celluloid Ceiling report, women comprised just 7% of all directors and just 13% of all writers behind the top 250 films of 2016. The same organization found that women fared only slightly better in front of the camera, accounting for 29% of the protagonists in the top 100 films of the year. (That's up from 22% the year before, but still a far cry from the 50% that women represent within the overall population.)
The F rating is a measure of quantity, not quality — it reflects only whether female artists were involved with a project, not how good the film is or how positively or negatively it represents women and girls. That part, audiences and critics will still have to decide for themselves. But it has the potential to drive conversation about women in film (or rather, the lack thereof) and promote work by and about women — and in doing so, spur change within the industry.
Indeed, Tarquini hopes the F rating will someday render itself obsolete. “Our real goal is to reach the stage when the F rating is redundant because 50 percent of the stories we see on screen are told by and about film's unfairly under-represented half of the population — women,” she said.