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Film Critic Manohla Dargis Coins “the DuVernay Test,” Checking on How People of Color are Represented in Film

It's in the same vein as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

In the New York Times today, film critic Manohla Dargis wrote about how the entrants to this year’s Sundance Film Festival have begun fighting the egregious issues surrounding race running rampant in Hollywood today. In addition to highlighting The Birth of a Nation, holder of the biggest film deal to come out of Sundance in history, Dargis also coined the term “the DuVernay test,” which is a “rule of thumb” diagnostic test to check on a film’s portrayal of people of color in relation to white characters.

It was created much in the same style as the Bechdel-Wallace test in that it’s a simple check to see whether “African-Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories,” as Dargis describes. The idea is that the bar is intentionally set pretty low, only requiring that people of color not just be an accessory to foil or highlight white stories. With such a low bar, you’d think more movies would pass, but just as with the Bechdel-Wallace test, you find out that there actually aren’t that many that do pass at all.

You’ll remember that Kelly Sue DeConnick coined a similar test for female characters in comics, “the Sexy Lamp test.” It basically says that if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp, and the story still works, then your story’s got some problems.

The biases at play in Hollywood–both racial and gender-based–that were once subconscious are now being brought to the fore. It’s with simple checks like the Bechdel-Wallace test and now the DuVernay test that we can begin to show just how deep these biases run. It’s with these checks that we can highlight the things that are missing in filmmaking today. After all, when you give something a name and a label, that makes it easier to talk about, now doesn’t it?

So… I have to ask. How long until we can see a test for trans stories? Cause let me tell you, if I have to watch another movie “about trans people” that turns out to actually just be a bunch of cis reactions to trans people, then so help me…

(via Women and Hollywood Twitter, featured image via Shutterstock/taniavolobueva)

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (, and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters ( She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.