“Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.”Oscar Wilde
It’s rare that you come across such a simple and quiet film that speaks volumes. But this is exactly what Shatara Michelle Ford does in her debut feature “Test Pattern.” In this film, the writer/director poignantly tells the story of an interracial couple (Renesha and Evan) whose relationship is put to the test after Renesha (a Black woman) is sexually assaulted and her boyfriend (a white man) has to drive her from hospital to hospital in search of a rape kit.
Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill) are the definition of opposites attracting (and no, I’m not referring to race) — Renesha is a more straight-laced professional working woman who seems to have her life all neatly together; Evan on the other hand is a tattoo artist who is more of a “fly by the seat of your pants” type. But the two come together to make a cute, genuinely loving couple that you can’t help but root for. One night while hanging out with her girlfriend, a highly inebriated Renesha meets “nice guy” Mike (Drew Fuller) who pushes up on her all night but she thwarts his advances. The next morning, Renesha wakes up in a bed next to Mike, disoriented and confused. Once she starts to realize what has transpired, he is no longer the “nice” guy and turns into a full-on douchebag (but he was already that in my book because of what he had done). Meanwhile, Evan has been searching for Renesha and finds out from her friend Amber (Gail Bean) that she disappeared last night and he gets the inclination that something bad might have happened to Renesha.
Once she returns home, a concerned Evan urges her to file a report and get a rape kit done. But Renesha feeling unsure, ashamed and confused (just a whirlwind of emotions) is hesitant to do so. Black women are far more hesitant to step forward in situations like this because of issues of “believability” and in this case in particular, the racial dynamics of the victim and the accused. This is not an easy conversation to have with your significant other. It is her right to not want to press the issues. But should she be forced to do so? I did appreciate the gender role reversal here when Evan believed her from jump; oftentimes we see situations where the boyfriend/husband isn’t really supportive. For good or bad (depending on how you interpret the situation and motivations) Evan persists and the two embark on a journey (that shouldn’t be a journey, but that shows how inefficient and prohibitive the system is) to get a rape kit done.
As if the story of a woman dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault was not fraught and complicated enough, Ford layers in the racial dynamics to really show how jacked up the system is. But even before we get to that, the film does a good job of dealing with the issue of consent in the #MeToo era. Mike comes across as a “nice” dude and he doesn’t “look” like the type to do anything bad. But we’ve seen it time and time again, “nice” dudes taking advantage of intoxicated females and blurring the line of consent. Bottom line, a drunk person cannot give “informed” consent — this should be the standard. But again, in far too many instances, females are hesitant to speak up because they feel like they have somehow brought this on themselves, but that is NEVER the case. This film really struck a chord and brought back some uncomfortable memories forcing me to confront my own past experience. It’s the sign of impactful film when it really speaks to you and gets you to reflect on your own life — it’s personal, but at the same time universal. And Ford does this with the right amount of introspection, sincerity and empathy.
“Test Pattern” does a great job of showing the frustration with the absurdity and inefficiency of the system and the obstacles put in place for what seems like a deterrent to coming forward. The harder and more demeaning you make the process, the less likely she’ll be to speak up. But not everything was bad — when she is finally able to get the rape kit, she is met with a nurse who was understanding/empathetic yet professional — just how it should be. It’s hard enough to come forward and if you are met with someone who is just cold and clinical, it gives off the wrong impression. (Also, it was not lost on me the fact that the other hospitals she went to had white staff and she was turned around and/or flat out dismissed, while it was the hospital with the mainly minority staff that really “saw” her and helped.) And in this case, Renesha had the support of a loving boyfriend to help her through, even though the situation tested their relationship — they must fight to find “normalcy” afterwards. The film does a great job of showing the aftermath, strain (on not just the relationship, but also the individual) and lingering effects of sexual assault — although the way we deal with it and process may be different, it affects not just the victim, but those around them and we all come out changed forever.
Although the the story may not be new (and sometimes the acting and music choices were a little iffy), Shatara Michelle Ford gives us a nuanced look at the obstacles one must face to speak up and the lingering effects of doing so. And much like Michaela Cole‘s “I May Destroy You” we see it from the not often shown perspective of a Black female (who has historical context, perpetuated racial stereotypes, and systemic racial disparities in the healthcare and justice systems all working against her). Ford really hits home with this intimate and perceptive look at race, gender and sexual assault through the lens of Black woman’s experience — but still makes it relatable to all women. This is one of those rare films that speaks so to the times and should be watched by all and shows that Shatara Michelle Ford is a new voice to be reckoned with.
“Test Pattern” is currently streaming Kino Marquee virtual cinemas.