Holly Tarquini on feminism, film & F-Rated
In the latest of her interviews for Pukka’s Womankind column, Suze Pole interviews Holly Tarquini. Holly is the inspirational creator of F-Rated, a new film rating which highlights films made by women or featuring women in leading roles. She has curated a series of F-Rated films for the Bath Film Festival.
I met Holly when she had just returned to the UK from working in India. A few years later she joined the team at the wonderful Bath Film Festival. Her enthusiasm, effervescence and passion for equality have raised the profile of the festival. She has now pulled off the launch of a new film rating: F-Rating. F-Rating has had international press coverage and brought the huge inequalities of the film industry firmly into the public eye.
Welcome to Pukka Planet Holly. I have such respect for what you have achieved and I am delighted to be interviewing you. Pukka has supported the Bath Film Festival for some years. This year we are sponsoring ‘F–Rating’ in the festival. Please tell us why you thought Pukka would make a great sponsorship partner.
Pukka are my favourite ethical company. Pukka's huge success gives me hope for humanity: that you can run a sustainable, successful and ethical business. So few companies achieve this and of course I love Pukka’s teas!
How did the F-Rating come about?
Bath Film Festival is programmed by a team of seven very different people. Last year the programmers kept saying to me that they had come across ‘films for you …’ ie films by and about women. My colleague Elspeth suggested we should rate the films as Ellen Tejle did in Sweden with the A-Rate. The A-Rate was given to any movie which passed The Bechdel Test, in other words, had a scene where at least two female characters talked to each other about something other than a man. Incredible as it seems, around 90% of films don’t pass this test!
We LOVED this concept, but we also wanted to highlight who was telling the stories, not just what was going on on-screen. So we developed F-Rating (F for Feminist) which we launched at the 2014 Bath Film Festival to massive international attention.
To receive an F-Rating stamp of approval, films must tick one (and ideally three) of the following:
- It is directed by a woman
- It is written by a woman
- There is a significant level of women on screen in their own right.
We are proud that this year 40% of films in our Bath Film Festival programme are F-Rated.
Why is the F-Rating so important? Why does it matter whether a man or woman writes or directs the films we see?
The stories shown on TV or at the cinema make a difference to the lives of the audiences. So I really care about who is telling the story as that dictates how it is told, what happens in the film, and even the gender balance of the crew. We are determined to help redress the balance in a world where white men’s stories dominate
For the last 30 years, the majority of stories on screen have been told by men, and they usually weave a very similar narrative for women. One where women and girls are in supporting roles, often needing to be rescued or only valued for their perfection and beauty. This has an impact on the inner narratives of women and girls, as they don’t see themselves represented as CEOs, doctors or leaders but instead as the carers, nurses and cleaners or the beautiful ornamental woman waiting to be rescued or proposed to.
How we relate to what is happening on screen is obvious in our house: whenever my eight year old daughter watches a movie she picks a character right at the beginning and says ‘that’s me!’ I want her to have a range of female protagonists (complex or simple, weak or strong, clever or stupid; but never simple stereotypes such as Manic Pixie Dream Girl etc) whose value lies in what they do and not in how they look.
What you show on screen gives so much opportunity for change. I used to work in the television industry making documentaries and was really struck by how TV can change audience perceptions, such as Supersize Me and Bowling For Columbine (both made by men!).
The Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media has been running a campaign called ‘See Jane’ with the brilliant tag line ‘If she can see it she can be it.’ In their research they found that women studying forensic science increased by 75% because they saw female pathologists on screen in TV series.
Is the Film industry becoming more F-Rated?
The proportion of women directing documentaries and independent ‘art house‘ films is much better than in mainstream movies where even the films lauded for telling women’s stories often have an almost all male crew from composer to Director of Photography.
Recently there has been lots of noise around how women are represented on screen, the disproportionate number of male directors and pay inequality (in Hollywood women are frequently paid significantly less than their male counterparts). So there is more conversation going on about equality. However, despite the fact that women-directed films and women-led story lines frequently do better at the box office, the movie moguls in Hollywood are still resistant to change.
Ultimately fighting for equality is about love isn’t it? You’re fighting for a fair world where the same opportunities exist for women as do for men. It’s always hard to point out prejudice and inequality though and it often doesn’t make you very popular. Where did this drive and passion for equality in you come from?
I have been a feminist since I can remember!
When I was six, my school wanted to expel me (if I had been a millennial, I’m sure that I would have been labeled as ADHD and put on medication). In what seems now as quite a radical step, they sent me to a psychiatrist. At the time, I was presenting myself as a boy called George and my mother asked the psychiatrist why she thought I didn’t want to be a girl (now I know that it was internalised misogyny). In her report, the psychiatrist wrote that I could see (in all of the stories I read and saw on screen) that all the exciting things were done by men and boys. I wanted to be the leader, adventurer, hero, explorer and so on. So of course I identified with the gender who did those things.
Since having my two daughters my desire to change the world they live in has intensified my passion to fight for equality, especially since the backlash we had against feminism in the 80’s and 90’s.
What’s great about The F-Rating is that it allows us to vote with our cinema seats. Our choice of film can make a difference.
Yes. The F-Rating is like the Fairtrade stamp. So if you have a choice of two films to watch, or two packets of tea to buy, you can choose according to your values. You have the chance to support equality and fairness, helping to influence and support positive change on screen and off.
You spent time living and working in India. Are you thinking of taking F –Rated to Bollywood?
Ha! There is a lot of interesting new feminism coming out of India at the moment with women standing up to abuse and finding their voice. I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to take the F-Rating to Bollywood though – perhaps I’ll leave that to my daughters!
Tell us about your time in India
My partner Tony and I set up and ran a guesthouse in Mysore India to accommodate yoga students of our guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, known as Guruji, who developed Ashtanga yoga. We used to get up at 5am, do an hour and a half of yoga with Guruji and then serve the other students breakfast. Yoga was a huge part of our lives. I still have a regular yoga practice which I do before breakfast which keeps me calm and grounded. This type of yoga is a moving meditation and is great for people with busy minds. Your body keeps busy so your mind can stay calm. Guruji used to say ‘practice, practice, practice…all is coming…’. He meant regular practice would lead to absolute life transformation.
And finally could you tell us about the Women’s Equality party?
I am the leader of the Bath branch of the Women’s Equality Party which was co-founded in 2015 by author and journalist Catherine Mayer and the broadcaster and author Sandi Toksvig.
The party has six objectives:
1. Equal representation
2. Equal pay and opportunity
3. Equal parenting and caregiving
4. Equal education
5. Equal media treatment
6. An end to violence against women
Known as WE, the party is a focused mainstream party. All of the policies are about achieving equality for women, and as we all know, equality benefits everyone. WE invite all politicians across the parties to put us out of business by adopting our objectives. We have lots of great regional events and new members are always welcome.
Thank you Holly. I feel grateful to you and your colleagues for putting yourselves out there and fighting for equality on behalf of all women. We wish you well for all your future projects and hope you will come back and tell us about them.