We must keep in mind that inclusion and representation in the film industry are not just a passing fad from the summer of 2020; they are an ongoing struggle that matters after this year's display of back-patting, tearful acceptance speeches, and one slap.
Although seeing more diverse faces on the big screen is a crucial first step toward inclusion, it is insufficient by itself. With less than half as many actors of colour receiving Academy Awards as in 2021, this year marked a significant reversal in diversity. The audience needs a way to hold studios, producers, and executives accountable for the stories they tell.
A framework on race is provided by the "DuVernay test," which asks a series of questions to help us evaluate how minorities are portrayed in movies. The Duvernay test must be kept in the forefront of our minds as we evaluate the newest and best film offers. It was inspired by the "Bechdel test," a comparable test for female characters.
The exam includes five crucial questions: Are the coloured characters whitewashed? Do characters of colour pursue their own objectives in addition to those of white people? Do people of colour just discuss their race in their dialogue? Do the characters embody negative, crude, or outright racist stereotypes? Is the filmmaker, writer, or other creative a representative of the culture of the story?
In a psychological sense, representation gives a feeling of belonging. That Black students who had a Black teacher in kindergarten were 18% more likely to enrol in college shouldn't come as a surprise.
Beyond the classroom, representation must exist. To evaluate the effects of television viewing, a longitudinal study involving 396 Black and White kids of all genders was conducted. The findings showed that exposure to television predicted a decline in self-esteem for Black girls, Black boys, and White girls. In essence, the research showed that watching TV can boost self-esteem in kids—but only in white boys.
What Is the DuVernay Test?
The DuVernay Test analyses how people of colour are portrayed in movies, shows, novels, video games, and other forms of storytelling in order to identify cliches that perpetuate racial injustice and prejudice in media representation. The test, which was created by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis and is called in honour of the Black director Ava DuVernay, demands that a plot include individuals of colour who have rich lives rather than existing merely in relation to the white ones.
The DuVernay Test was developed in response to the 2016 Oscar nominees scandal, which had little racial representation and gave rise to the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The Bechdel Test (also known as the Bechdel-Wallace Test), developed by Alison Bechdel, served as the model for the DuVernay Test. This test demands that a story contain two female-identifying characters who converse about something other than a man. The DuVernay Test is one measurable criterion for onscreen racial equality in the film industry, serving as a broad indicator of the active participation of people of colour in films, books, TV series, and other media as a whole.
The DuVernay Test's three main requirements
In a New York Times article about the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, film critic Manohla Dargis presented the test. According to Dargis, Hollywood movies need to include fully developed characters of colour who are not just there to bolster white stories in order to pass the test. Optional test criteria were added by other proponents and filmmakers. The test's key performance indicators are:
1. Complex characters: To pass the criteria, a story must have at least two characters that are people of colour who are not involved in a romantic connection. Instead than existing solely in relation to white characters, these characters must have rich lives.
2. Names: Characters of colour must be given names.
3. Speaking roles: People of colour must have dialogue, and their discussions must not centre on defending a white person.
Four films that pass the DuVernay standard
A few films that pass the DuVernay Test are listed below:
1. Black Panther (2018): While some of the Avengers movies don't pass the DuVernay Test, Black Panther is one of the all-time top-grossing domestic hits and has a number of powerful Black characters with complex and varied relationships and lives.
2. Oscar-winning actor in Parasite (2019). A Korean family that slowly tries to take over the lives of their wealthy employers is the focus of Parasite.
3. Selma (2014): This Ava DuVernay-helmed film, set in 1965, follows the activism for voting rights of several significant figures in the civil rights movement, including the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery. The movie received a nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars.
4. The Color Purple (1985): With a screenplay adapted from Alice Walker's book, The Color Purple depicts the intricate and private life of a young Black girl growing up in the early 20th century. It also includes a number of friends and family members who have their own fully developed lives.
Some significant data should be kept in mind as we reflect on the future of Oscar awards. Despite making up more than 40% of the population, the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report published in 2019 indicated that just roughly 20% of principal movie performers were persons of colour in 2017.
We cannot enable studio heads and film industry executives to simply cast one person of colour and then pat themselves on the back for eradicating prejudice.
Fundamentally, the narratives that the media tells influence the narratives that we tell ourselves. Films that are mostly "Black" in the current culture nearly exclusively highlight the hardship of Black people. The number of movies since 2012 that have predominantly dealt with Black pain, from "12 Years a Slave" to "Django Unchained," is both mind-boggling and oppressive.
An essential aspect of the Black experience in America is featured in these stories. We must keep in mind that Black history is a rich tapestry of diversity and culture rather than one homogenous canon. The tales of black joy, black creativity, and black love are nowhere to be found.
Additionally, studios must be held responsible for their flaws. Not only should we evaluate movies based on how well they pass the Duvernay test, but we also need to evaluate companies based on how well they have historically performed. We can only assess genuine, long-term change in this manner.
We can only assess progress in any area of life by measuring. Without criteria by which to measure its "development," our culture cannot be evaluated. We now have a way to hold our culture — and its gatekeepers — accountable thanks to the DuVernay test.
It's critical to keep this mechanism in mind as we reflect on the next Oscar season. Utilizing it is up to us.