Check Out the "Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in [Mainstream Movie Title]" Video Series
Photo Credit: S & A

Check Out the "Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in [Mainstream Movie Title]" Video Series

Every Single WordHat-tip to BuzzFeed staff writer Fiona Rutherford for highlighting this

I’m reminded of the Bechdel Test, but reworked to take race, instead of gender, into consideration.

In short, while it’s not law in Sweden, theaters there have been using the Bechdel Test to draw attention to how few movies fully incorporate rich, complex female characters in their narratives. To pass the test, each film must meet the following 3 criteria:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it…

2. … Who talk to each other…

3. … About something besides a man

Repurposed with race in mind, if we followed the above, ours would look something like this:

1. Are there two or more black characters with names in the film? 

2. Do they talk to each other?

3. If they talk to each other, do they talk about something that has nothing to do with being black?

I was also reminded of Asli Dukan’s piece in which she came up with 5 basic criteria to use in narrowing down her picks for the "30 Significant Black Characters In Science Fiction Films" video series she created, in which she highlighted black characters in sci-fi films of note, who, based on her criteria, were fully-formed characters.

Here are Asli’s 5 basic criteria for picking the characters she chose for her video series:

1. Character (is the character primary) 

2. Agency (does the character have the ability to make their own choices) 

3. Survival (does the character live until the end of the film) 

4. Boglesque (does the character appear as a stereotype) 

5. Relevance (does character have historical, political or social relevance) 

As Asli notes, this is all an informal, evolving survey of characters and is meant for educational and entertainment purposes only. And yes, I’m fully aware that even if a test like this existed, it really wouldn’t solve any of the existing problems black filmmakers, actors, audiences etc continue to endure in this business. But just indulge me… even if for "entertainment purposes only." 

The video series below, created by Dylan Marron, speaks to all of the above by simply highlighting the almost total exclusion of people of color (not just black people) from mainstream Hollywood movies (except in movies specifically about people of color, of course, which are, in effect, considered *niche* and not mainstream).

There’s nothing here that should shock; if anything, as they all were for me, I was actually humored by it all (a sobering kind of humor), if only because, well, the point he’s making with the videos isn’t exactly unfamiliar. But maybe for some (especially those for whom this kind of exclusion isn’t a reality), it could be revealing (as we’re taught in film school, show don’t tell), and inspire some healthy self-reflection, enough that they’d be motivated, however slightly, to do something that directly addresses it in future projects. 

BuzzFeed staff writer Fiona Rutherford interviewed Marron (here), who houses all his work on his Tumblr blog (here). 

Here are a few of Marron’s videos. Find more on his blog.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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