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Civic Impact

Local filmmakers counter male-centric entertainment with the Bechdel Bill

Filmmakers and entertainment company leaders pledge to include more women's stories in their products.

The Bechdel Test sounds simple: in any given film, are there more than two female characters? Do they have names? And do they talk to each other about something other than a man? Yet only 55% of films currently produced can claim to pass the Bechdel Test. “I’m surrounded by incredible women who have so much to say. We all are. It’s bizarre and curious that it’s not reflected in the films we see,” says Imogen Grace, a Toronto-area actor and filmmaker. Grace and her project partner Joella Crichton launched the Bechdel Bill last Friday at the Spoke Club as both a challenge to the film entertainment industry and a celebration of women’s stories.

Taking the Bechdel Test as inspiration, the Bechdel Bill is a voluntary pledge asking filmmakers and entertainment companies to commit to having four out every five productions pass the Bechdel Test. “The Bechdel Test is an imperfect test, and it’s very simple, but it’s concrete. Rather than just saying “represent women,” which can be difficult, this is a milestone for people to work towards.” Four out five also gives filmmakers—many of which are independent—the freedom create films that don’t pass the test.

So far, the response from Toronto’s film and television industry has been positive, with people like Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik (the showrunner for Strange Empire), Mackenzie Grace (co-producer on Orphan Black), and Alysia Reiner (who plays former warden Natalie Figueroa on Orange is the New Black) taking the pledge. While so far, all the Bechdel Bill co-signers have been female, Grace says there has been outreach into male-led entertainment companies. She stresses, “We love men’s stories and men in film as well. There’s nothing wrong with the way things are now, but there’s room for things to be so much better and exciting for everyone.”

Grace sees Toronto as the perfect launching pad for the project. “When we started, our mission was uniting the Toronto film industry to create powerful representations of women in film. We started with a focus on the Toronto industry, and it’s because of things like TIFF and the growing film and TV industry. It’s an exciting place to be.” Future plans include partnering with organizations like ACTRA and the Writer’s Union, and offering workshops on “how to take advantage of the market of people who want to see women-led films.”
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