What are Media Tests for bias and why is it important in the scope of greater diversity and inclusion in storytelling?
Storytelling on screen starts on the page and when you are looking at issues of diversity and inclusiveness I watch movies through a very focused lens and ask myself: Does it pass any Media Tests? Does it fail any? When watching a film I always check to see if certain standards are met for me in terms of diversity and inclusion. There are various Media Tests that measure these elements. Each of these “tests” serves as a reminder for writers and filmmakers to consider representation standards that reflect people that may not always be in the room.
When breaking down criticism of entertainment it is easy to rely solely on opinion. The problem with that is that all opinions are laced with inherent bias. Denying the existence of an inherent bias not only makes you a lousy critic, it makes you lazy. To fall into the old trope of “well that’s my opinion” ignores and dismisses your readers as well as diminishes the value of their opinion by placing yours above theirs. To some extent, when it comes to criticism that is OK. Because it is done in the effort to present another viewpoint that is outside of the readers own world.
A lot of times when people hear that I am a blogger their first response is asking me if I write about Disney because I live in Orlando, their second is asking me how on earth I make money at it, and the third is wondering what makes my opinion different and why they should read it. The truth: I do write about Disney, I do make money (but not that much) it is more for the love of communication, and the last answer is complicated. I really don’t feel that my opinion is any more valid than other people’s opinion. The best I can do is observe and communicate what I saw and experienced and then follow up with my interpretation of it. Though there may be one more element that I would like to bring to the table that has nothing to do with my opinion and is more of a tool to measure that helps with the idea of breaking down inherit bias in entertainment.
So what are the Media Tests I look at to try to assess if a film meets the minimum standards for inclusion and diversity?
The top 8 Media Tests that I apply while watching a film or television show:
The Bechdel Test
This test has one piece of criteria and most films fail to pass it- Do two female characters have at least one conversation that’s not about a man?
The Racial Bechdel Test
Same simple rules as The Bechdel Test, applied to people of color- At least two POC must have a conversation that’s not about a white person.
The Mako Mori Test
Three boxes must be checked to pass- 1) At least one female character that 2) gets her own narrative arc and that 3) is not about supporting a man’s story.
The Ellen Willis Test
Does the story make sense if the genders are flipped?
The Tauriel Test
In a given work, at least one woman be good at what she does to pass this test.
The Deggans Rule
This test requires a show that’s not about race to include at least two non-white human characters in the main cast.
The DuVernay Test
A work passes it if “African Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.”
The Vito Russo Test
Was created by the organization GLAAD and has three requirements- 1) The film must contain a lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender character 2) that character must not be predominantly defined by their orientation or gender identity- they need to be as unique as straight cis characters and 3) they must be important enough to affect the plot—they can’t just crack some jokes or “paint urban authenticity.”
There are other Media Tests that gauge things like non-fiction work (The Finkbinder Test) and a test for toys (The Lauredhel Test).
Media Tests are not meant to replace opinion or influence reviews past the simple acknowledgment of pass or fail. Not every project necessarily requires a pass or fail when it comes to some of these subjects if they do not serve the story (though one could argue diversity and inclusion always serve the story). Each test is supposed to be a gateway to discussion and thoughtfulness that will hopefully open the door to diversifying the “voices in the room” and on the page, challenging creators to consider new viewpoints when developing and telling stories.