The powerful debut exploring gender, race, and consent
In Virtual Cinemas Through Kino Marquee
Reviewed by Ishrat Jahaiara Quazi : (Content warning: talks about rape) Shatara Michelle Ford debuts her first feature film with Test Pattern which tells the story of how a Black woman and a white man in a relationship handle the situation after she gets sexually assaulted. The movie talks about race, power dynamics in relationships, and the broken healthcare system in this country.
Test Pattern starts when the assault is ongoing and right when Renesha(Brittany S. Hall) is being pulled down to the bed by her assaulter the scene cuts off. We are immediately taken from a scary situation to a fun one where people are drinking and dancing to Spanish music at a bar. Evan(Will Brill )is introduced during this scene when he asks Renesha for her number. She decides to give it to him and they meet up later which leads to their relationship.
Their romance moves quickly as Renesha decides to leave her corporate job to live with Evan. There’s a lot of changes that Renesha goes through after being in a relationship with Evan like leaving her job, changing her hairstyles, and even getting tattoos from Evan who’s a tattoo artist.
When we’re used to their romance, the audience is once again taken to a bar setting. Renesha’s friend Amber(Gail Bean) asks her for a night out at this club. Evan doesn’t want to go as he explains that he doesn’t like places like that. Tenesha respects that and decides to go on her own. The two friends get drunk and are then approached by two men. Even though Renesha refuses one of them for dancing requests, Mike(Drew Fuller), her assaulter insists that she dance with him. She eventually gives in and starts dancing with him. However, things become hazy very quickly. Renesha isn’t in control of her environment anymore. Mike takes her to his room in the hotel I believe while Renesha is trying hard to regain control. She’s in this sort of trance as the event takes place. Then, the scene transitions to the next morning.
Ford makes sure to not drag on the rape scene or make it brutal and graphic. She writes enough to tell the audience what’s going on but, not fully show which I respect because she’s not taking advantage of a rape scene in her movie.
The next morning Renesha returns to her house and Evan already knows what happened which is obvious from his reactions. Immediately after barely asking Renesha how she’s doing and how he can help he tells her that they need to go to the hospital to report the rape. Renesha just wants to go home at this point.
This is when Renesha slowly starts to see the pattern of domineerance between her abuser and boyfriend. Both men who came to her life in different contexts have the same power dynamics of being manipulative with her. And, it becomes more evident as he refuses to let her be with herself which is what she wants to do but instead he drags her through all these hospitals to get a rape test kit. This is where we see how shitty the healthcare system is in this country. You can also see the certain medical apartheid that exists in medical places. Renesha has to go through about 4 hospitals maybe before she gets the care she needs. The hospital she ends up getting assistance from has a person of color attending her. The previous hospitals consisted primarily of white nurses and doctors who were very neglective towards her assault case. But, at the last hospital you can see the nurse actually caring about Renesha’s situation. The nurse proceeds carefully and constantly reassures Renesha that she can take it at her pace when she’s ready and comfortable, which no one has tried to do until now. No one has tried to just talk to her. There is a discrepancy when it comes to Black people being treated well in the healthcare system whether it’s through a lack of trust in the narratives or providing the resources needed. It is common knowledge for those who have to deal with the system and this movie brings that issue to the spotlight with rape test kits because it’s a timely action that needs to be done. And, when you don’t have the proper resources it makes it that much harder to do anything.
The movie goes from there and although there isn’t much time left after that, a lot happens. When you compare how the characters were before and after the incident, there’s a big shift. Every flashback with Evan turns into a controlling memory. Hall and Brill are excellent in playing out this dynamic where Brill’s character is supposed to be loving yet manipulative and Hall’s character has to rethink her entire life after a serious event. Evan’s personality stays the same throughout the movie but it changes when we see him through Renesha’s perspective. I think the two actors have amazing chemistry. Hall and Brill are convincing where it counts. In the moments where Renesha is quiet and in the scenes where Evan has outbursts, both actors are very in control of not only their emotions but their body language too.
During one of the scenes, Renesha says, “I wasn’t like trying you know?” Every sexual assault case is different. And, here we see the victim-blaming herself as she thinks she wasn’t vocal enough and that’s why what happened, happened. It’s not the victim’s fault ever in any situation. People are always quick to blame the victims of assault by using phrases that like “Oh, well did you resist?” And, surely, that’s not the point. That point isn’t whether enough was done to stop it but rather the fact that it happened in the first place.
This story gives the audience a different perspective into the narratives of reporting assault and raising awareness about rape. Renesha doesn’t really want to take action or be vocal after getting raped. She simply wanted to express her emotions and be consoled, which Evan shoves back down her throat everytime she wants to say something or go home. I think there is room for every kind of victim and to expect every victim to always raise awareness or report her case is simply wrong. If someone doesn’t want to take action then no one should force them to.
I really liked the Test Pattern. The movie goes by so quickly that I’m left wanting more but it ended nicely. It wasn’t dragged on for 2 hours which I always appreciate. The story hits every point in 87 minutes. Ford treats race and sexual assault carefully and doesn’t exploit any narratives. She gives you a genuine account of what it could be like to be assaulted and being treated like everyone wants to get justice. Some people just want to come to terms with what happened to them before doing anything.
- Director/Writer: Shatara Michelle Ford
- Cast: Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill, Gail Bean, Drew Fuller
- Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Shatara Michelle Ford is a black American filmmaker born in rural Arkansas and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2010, she received an MFA in Screenwriting from Royal Holloway, University of London. Shatara’s work explores class, power, womanhood, identity, perception, and race. Intellectually propelled by the LA Rebellion film movement and stylistically influenced by Neoclassical directors; her films feature marginalized characters with rich internal lives that defy dominant stereotypes. Her script, QUEEN ELIZABETH was featured on the 2017 Black List. TEST PATTERN is her debut feature.