For a brief period in her childhood, Holly Tarquini was convinced that she wanted to be a boy. Not because she was transgender, but because Tarquini “wanted to be the hero of her story.”
Growing up watching white male dominated films, Tarquini was used to seeing a man play the sole protagonist while the woman was stuck as the sidekick. In these movies, the men would be “climbing mountains and canoeing down the Amazon,” but always had time to show up and save the damsel in distress, a woman who seemed desperate for a man’s help.
The idea of being a docile, quiet woman who had to be rescued never appealed to Tarquini. After acting out in school, she was recommended to a psychiatrist who sensed Tarquini’s free and independent spirit and likened her to Lady Hester Stanhope, a British socialite, traveler, and adventurer. Tarquini began to see that women could live the same exciting lives as men did, lives that were never portrayed in film.
Tarquini carried her childhood interest in feminism and television into her jobs working as a freelance producer and director for 12 years. With two daughters to care for, Tarquini put her strenuous career on hold and became a film professor at the University of Bath. Through a colleague at the University, she was offered a position as a programmer for the documentary aspect of the Bath Film Festival, the future birthplace of the F-rating.
Being a working mom gave Tarquini a new perspective on how unequally women were treated, making her even more determined that her children grow up in a different world. According to a study from Women and Hollywood in 2014, out of the top 250 grossing films, less than five percent were directed by women, and out of the top 100 grossing films, only two were directed by women. Tarquini wanted to highlight films that portrayed women’s stories, and knew that using the Bechdel test —a test that counts the number of times two women talk on screen about something other than a man— was an insufficient indicator of the feminist quality of a film. When a movie titled “Bikini Carwash” passed, Tarquini knew that it was time to give the Bechdel test an upgrade.
That’s when Tarquini created the F-rating. This demanding system rewards films that star prominent women characters, and are written or directed by a woman. When a film includes all three of these aspects, the movie receives a triple F-rating, which is the gold standard of the F-Rated organization.
The F-rating rapidly gained attention from national media and was added as a keyword on IMDB, the biggest movie database in the world. Now over 80 organizations are F-rating their programs, challenging the male-centered culture, and helping open up opportunities for women to have more directing roles and potential investment in their film projects. The F-rating system also puts the power in the hands of the audience to watch a film that champions women’s stories over a highly anticipated blockbuster film.
Even when she switched her name from Holly to Oliver, Tarquini’s soul remained a feminist. Tarquini shares Hannah Gadsby’s wish for a world that showcases more relatable content for young girls: “What I would have done to have heard a story like mine. Not for reputation, not for money, not for power, but to feel less alone.”
Hoping that her daughters never have to share Gadsby’s pain of not having a story to connect to, Tarquini’s end goal is to advocate for strong women characters for the next generation of girls to emulate. While the F-rating continues to promote content made by women for women, the fight for equality is a never ending battle. However, Tarquini’s hopeful attitude provides a battle cry to a room full of feminists. “I’m quite optimistic. I refuse to despair about it [feminism fatigue]. I think that we can do it [become equal], I think that we will.”
Twitter: @F__Rating, @hollytarq
About the Author
Samantha is currently the writing intern for La Pietra Dialogues. The New Jersey native is majoring in the Liberal Studies Core Program, but hopes to also further pursue studies in Political Science and Media Studies. Samantha enjoys exploring the streets of Florence and is looking forward to traveling through Europe. In her free time, Samantha enjoys listening to music, free writing, and studying with her friends. In the future, Samantha plans to work in New York City as journalist, write a novel, and run for Congress all before becoming an English professor.