‘DuVernay Test’ Proposed to Measure Diversity in Movies

Rob Kim/Getty Images
Rob Kim/Getty Images

New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis has coined the name of a new test that might measure the quality of diversity in a film — the DuVernay Test, a kind-of race-based variant of the Bechdel Test, which measures gender equality in film.

In her latest column, Dargis heaps praise on Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation for its timeliness in the wake of the Academy Awards’ diversity controversy, and writes that Sundance would be the festival where a strong black film would break out. Birth of a Nation is the toast of this year’s festival; Fox Searchlight paid a record $17.5 million for worldwide distribution rights for the film, a biopic of Nate Turner, who led a bloody 48-hour slave rebellion in 1831.

“Movies like The Birth of a Nation are helping to write the next chapter of American cinema,” Dargis writes in the Times. “And, to an extent, that’s true of Sundance at its best.”

It’s also where numerous selections pass the Bechdel Test 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.

The requirements to satisfy the DuVernay Test (minorities must have “fully realized lives”) are more vague than those required to satisfy the Bechdel Test, which stipulates that: a) a film contain two female characters b) who speak to each other c) about something other than a man.

Nonetheless, DuVernay, who won the Best Director award at the 2012 Sundance festival for her film Middle of Nowhere and later directed the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma, said she was “floored” to be associated with the test.


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