As the uproar continues about the lack of diversity in media with#OscarsSOWhite and the recent article that the SAG Awards is diverse. I thought I would finally add my commentary to the ongoing discussion about diversity in media. I would classify myself more of a diversity in tech critic, however, I have also have some experience in women’s media. I generally comment on television shows, science fiction movies, or those related to or including technology. Much of my criticism, I admit, is about how women of color are portrayed. So when I saw the “DuVernay Test” making the rounds on social media, it made me think about many of the television shows and miniseries. Devised by a New York Times reporter Manohla Dargis, the “DuVernay Test”measures diversity in films.
Dargis first floated the concept when writing about the Sundance Film Festival: Sundance Fights Tide With Films Like ‘The Birth of a Nation:
It’s also where numerous selections pass the Bechdel test (movies like Christine and Sand Storm, in which two women talk to each other about something besides a man) and, in honor of the director and Sundance alumna Ava DuVernay, what might be called the DuVernay test, in which African-Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.
It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is,” Rhimes said during her speech. “Women are smart and strong. They are not sex toys or damsels in distress. People of color are not sassy or dangerous or wise. And, believe me, people of color are never anybody’s sidekick in real life.”
I can not begin to count how often some of my favorite shows and films depict the same stereotypical white man or woman saves XYZ with the side kick woman or man of color story lines. Honestly, most of my favorite movies can be drilled down to a single one line plot idea.
- Boy meets Girl, Girl falls in love with Boy, Boy saves the world.
- Boy/Girl meets Natives, learns about their culture & then fights others to protect them.
As a result, I would like to propose an additional series of criteria to the DuVernay Test, not to take away from her awesomeness, but to add Rhimes’ perspective to the concept. The RhimeVernay Test. This would measure diversity in movies, television shows and miniseries.
- The movie or show would not end with the leading actor (white man or woman) saving the day, protecting “the natives,” people of color, or the world.
- Women and men of color are not sidekicks nor do they blend into the background in the lives of white men and women.
- The lead characters are women and/or men of color, and the story isn’t about the experiences of being or living as a minority.
- Women aren’t cast as sex objects, victims that need saving, or victims turned into saviors.
- The actors aren’t repeating existing stereotypes of women and/or men of color.
I would also add a tweak to the “Bechdel Test” while I’m at it. TheRhimeVernay-Bechdel Test: (1) has to have at least two women (one is a woman of color) in it, (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.
These last two aren’t required but are nice to have included:
- A woman of color with a love interest other than someone of her own race and/or gender that deals with the realities of interracial relationships.
- Women of color as leading tech experts, particularly and especially black, Latina and indigenous women.
Whether we realize it or not what the media portrays shapes our beliefs. The more we are exposed to stereotypical images the harder it is to accept a reality that is different.