Failing to Be a Test
A movie that not only brings up racial issues, but also focuses on them the entire movie seems like it would easily pass the Representation Test, but putting the film through the test is no easy task. The test starts out with straightforward questions like “Is the protagonist a woman? 2 points” and “Is the protagonist a woman of color.” All simple questions that are black and white, but then the questions start to get a little tougher to answer. “Does the film avoid celebrating offensive racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes?” Now how in the world do you answer that? But the hardest question to answer has to be “Does the film include men in non-stereotypical roles? (i.e. caregiver, competent involved parent, etc.)” This question is extremely hard to answer for 12 Years a Slave because the protagonist has many different roles. At first, he is an average businessman, living in the north where he is a free man. He takes care of his children and I would go as far as to call him a “competent involved parent.” He later then becomes enslaved when he is kidnapped and sold off to a plantation. Here, he falls into a stereotypical slave surrounded by many stereotypical white men who abuse him and the other slaves. But the question makes it hard to answer because it is not specific enough. At the beginning of the film, it seemed as if he did not fit the stereotypical black man of the time period. So because of this, does it get the checkmark for this question? I said no because of the vagueness. There were no characters that really broke the stereotypes of the time period. The next question up is “Does the film avoid celebrating offensive racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes?” Another tough question to answer for such a movie. The film seems to show how bad these racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes were in the time period. It doesn’t celebrate it, but rather embraces it and does a fantastic job of showing just how bad society was at one point. Through incredible amounts of ethos, pathos and logos, 12 Years a Slave breaks boundaries that bring up tough subjects like racism. The movie looked so real and the audience felt the frustration and pain Solomon Northup, the protagonist, went through. In Reading Arguments, it states people “create ethos in at least two ways- through the reputation they bring to the table and through the language, evidence, and images the use (Reading Arguments, p.52).” 12 Years a Slave uses the fact that it is a true story to build a ton of credibility and the audience judges the film knowing that these are real events that happened. All of this makes the film hit home and show how bad slavery really was. Because of all of this, there is no way to say the film celebrates “offensive racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes,” but it is also hard to say it avoids it either. Again, I could not check the box next to this question because of how vaguely written it is.
After some serious debate over some controversial questions, scoring the film was complete. The grading chart goes as follows: F = zero points, D = one to three, C = four to six, B = seven to ten, A = anything above ten. A film that shows how awful racism and slavery is scored a seven. That’s a very weak B. Before actually going through the grading process, I expected 12 Years a Slave to easily score a high A, but did not see it going this low. On the test’s website, the Representation Project, they state the goal of the test to show how well a film “challenges the status quo.” They admit that it is not a perfect method, but a good guideline for people to use when deciding which Hollywood movies to support (The Representation Project). From that description, 12 Years a Slave seems like it did a fantastic job of challenging the status quo of today’s movie culture. Instead of selling sex and action, it presents a darker and harsher picture of humanity that was once a huge part of America. Not too many movies are pushing these boundaries at all. The website claims graded 12 Years a Slave and gave it a “high B” while stating that no Oscar nominee last year would have scored an A. I do recognize there is a lack of diversity when it comes to Hollywood, but this test is not the best way to show it. There are large flaws in the test, mainly the vagueness of the questions that make it hard to use, and it seems too small of a test. It’s hard to rate a movie’s diversity based off of sixteen short questions and four “bonus points” given based off of the diversity behind the camera. A large part of the making of the test was to show the lack of diversity that also occurs off screen with the directors and writers. If it is trying to show that, don’t make it four questions at the end and call it bonus. That right there takes away a lot of their argument. All in all, the test is a poor judgment for diversity in the film industry. I give it two pickles because it does get its point across of the misrepresentation of the real world.