Director Shatara Michelle Ford On Centering Blackness In ‘Test Pattern’

Written by on February 19, 2021

Warning: The dialog beneath contains mentions of sexual assault. 

In “Take a look at Sample,” an interracial couple’s seemingly good relationship is put to the take a look at after the lady, who’s Black, is drugged and sexually assaulted. Disoriented and emotionally uncooked, Renesha (Brittany S. Corridor) simply needs to go dwelling and relaxation, however her white boyfriend Evan (Will Brill) is decided to go to a hospital the place she will receive a rape equipment take a look at. What transpires is a painful and solely additional traumatizing ordeal.

The couple drives from hospital to hospital, solely to be turned away — in some circumstances, a rape equipment isn’t accessible, in others, the correct specialist isn’t on web site to manage the take a look at. Half neoclassical drama, half psychological thriller, “Take a look at Sample” deftly performs with perspective and reminiscence, exploring race, gender and the methods the system fails Black ladies survivors of sexual assault on each stage, from well being care to the so-called prison justice system. 

The film is a surprising characteristic debut from director Shatara Michelle Ford, who additionally wrote and produced it. Whereas in dialog with Ford in regards to the movie through telephone earlier this month, I discovered myself particularly struck by two issues: First, their apparent ardour and enthusiasm for storytelling, notably with regard to telling marginalized tales. Second, how extremely uncommon (emphasis on uncommon) and rewarding it was for me as a Black femme tradition author to have an in-depth, hourlong dialog with a Black girl filmmaker about their work. 

On this interview, Ford speaks to navigating a white and male-dominated film trade, the dearth of movies centered on the internal lives of Black ladies and femmes, the facility of perspective in filmmaking, the challenges and rewards of creating “Take a look at Sample,” and why we have to change the best way we take into consideration sexual assault.

Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill in a scene from "Test Pattern."

Brittany S. Corridor and Will Brill in a scene from “Take a look at Sample.”

I’ve seen the phrase well timed used to explain this film, which is actually true, however I feel in a bigger sense, it’s additionally timeless. Which means the problems that you just’re exploring existed lengthy earlier than the Me Too motion and up to date conversations we’ve been collectively having about sexual abuse and consent. What’s the historical past behind creating this film from script to display, and why did you select this story on your first characteristic?

I’ve been making an attempt to make a film since 2015. In 2015 specifically, there was an awesome name after #OscarsSoWhite, the place the enterprise was so determined to search out extra Black filmmakers and was asking, “Oh, the place are they?! How do we discover them?” And we had been all like, “Hello, we’re right here!” I had written a script [“Queen Elizabeth”] that ended up on The Blacklist a few years later, it was a coming-of-age story a few Black lady. Very “Woman Fowl”-y. As in it was one thing that may very well be simply acquired and make-able and all of that. However I went round and tried to get it made and everybody preferred the script after which could be shocked once I mentioned I needed to direct it. They mentioned, “Nicely, you’ve by no means accomplished something.” And I’d say, nicely, I’ve accomplished a brief and I do know I can do it. I’ve a very nice group behind me. We’re actually able to go. However I couldn’t get a financier to finance the film. I simply couldn’t. I raised about $100,000, which got here from a financier who simply believed in me, however I couldn’t get the remainder of the cash. I wanted about one million to make the film correctly. 

And so I assumed, nicely, I’ve this different challenge that I’m serious about and it requires numerous particular results make-up and numerous technical work. I would wish to shoot underwater.

I assumed possibly I ought to do a proof of idea with the cash that I used to be in a position to elevate. I used to be engaged on that round September 2017, proper across the time the Harvey Weinstein story broke. Me Too hadn’t actually exploded, however it was a few yr into us speaking about Invoice Cosby. We had been beginning to discuss much more about consent and we had simply elected an accused sexual predator. And I feel we had been speaking in regards to the safety of ladies’s our bodies and physique autonomy generally. There was numerous speak about rape kits and the backlog. 

There have been a few issues that form of sat with me for some time. The primary was, I used to be fairly annoyed with the methods wherein we spoke about assault. Once more, it’s a spectrum proper? It’s the fundamental violation, the very low-level boundary violation, with any person touching you or making advances that you just don’t need, all the best way to rape — and all of it’s dangerous.

And I feel the opposite factor that actually sat with me on this time was across the rape equipment dialog. Earlier than I realized in regards to the backlog in early 2017, I didn’t know rape kits had been a factor.

I simply didn’t. I’ve been in conditions. I’ve taken pals. And I’ve by no means been provided or heard of it being provided. And that shocked me. I used to be like, “Why is that this abruptly a factor that appears to be quite common and but I’d by no means had entry to?” Or heard of. It wasn’t taught to me. You realize, you consider in faculty, the conversations that you’ve got normally together with your RAs the primary few days of being there and the orientations, they usually say one thing in regards to the basic “No means no!” And like, “That is the sexual assault hotline.” Nobody is like, “Additionally, there’s a forensic take a look at, if you end up on this state of affairs, that may very well be helpful.” That sat with me and I did increasingly more analysis about it.

What did you discover out in your analysis?

I saved studying all of those tales about folks all around the nation. Tales from New York, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Portland. I used to be studying the tales of people that had been experiencing the kind of rape the place they didn’t keep in mind something and didn’t know who the assaulter was. They might go to the hospital and lots of of them would ask for a rape equipment and would get it and would have uncomfortable conditions with it. Or they’d be charged for it, which you’ll be able to’t do. Or they might go they usually wouldn’t have entry to at least one as a result of the hospital didn’t inventory them or they didn’t have the fitting forensic examiner to manage the process. And I assumed once more about myself. 

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. I feel, as we all know, Missouri is just not a forward-thinking state, particularly on the subject of the our bodies of Black of us and girls and queer folks. And the coverage displays that. I thought of if this was one thing that had been taking place to me and I lived in Missouri or a state just like that — which I might argue Texas is — would I belief the establishment? Would I belief that I may discuss to any person and get the justice that I wanted or the decision that I used to be in search of? I used to be like, “No. If this occurred to me, I most likely would wish to go dwelling, take a bathe, have a cup of tea and possibly relaxation somewhat in silence.”

And I’d most likely additionally beat myself up and assume that I did one thing mistaken. Which, once more, occurs all the time. After which I assumed in regards to the different factor, which is, I’m married to a white British man and we’ve been collectively for 16 years. And one thing that I learn about him is that, as a result of he’s not from right here, he takes stuff at face worth. Like he doesn’t have pores and skin within the recreation to guard himself as a result of he’s not from right here. Nonetheless, one factor that he’s positively responsible of, which I feel, all white persons are responsible of, is believing that the system works for you. As a result of it does! And so whenever you put a Black physique in there, they form of short-circuit somewhat bit. I felt that within the occasions the place my companion has put me into positions that made me really feel extra distressed as a result of he trusted that the system labored.

And so instantly I wrote a script that form of distilled all of that stuff that I’ve been form of ingesting for a yr or so.

It ended up being a 35-page script. I gave it to my producer and mentioned, “Hey, it’s 35 pages, however it’s a characteristic, clearly. Are you able to learn it and inform me what you assume?” And she or he did. And she or he mentioned, “Oh, truly I feel we should always cease what we’re doing proper now and attempt to make this as a result of I feel we will with the cash that now we have.” So I used that $100,000 to translate into pre-production on “Take a look at Sample,” which we began in round November of 2017. We simply went for it.

However what that meant is also that I used to be operating round making an attempt to ask for extra money. The percentages had been at all times stacked in opposition to me. In the event that they weren’t going to let me make “Queen Elizabeth,” nothing had modified. I nonetheless hadn’t made something. And so there was nonetheless numerous distrust. Additionally, I used to be asking to do one thing that I feel isn’t essentially what comes throughout as business. I used to be approaching it from a method that individuals didn’t know the best way to consider. 

I tanked my credit score in 2018 to make this film. I took out, like, 9 bank cards. My companion took out bank cards. We drained our financial savings. We needed to purchase a home. And I additionally went to many pals who had been extra profitable than I used to be on the time and requested for a thousand {dollars} funding from them, which fairly a number of of them did. Others invested somewhat bit greater than that. And many individuals gave me, you already know, $50, $100, $500 right here and there and helped me get by the 20 days that I wanted to shoot the movie. We shot most of it in April 2018, and the film was accomplished and able to go by November of 2018. However as you and I are speaking, it’s 2021.

So what occurred throughout these three years?

I used to be doing one thing that individuals weren’t used to seeing and the perspective that I had, I feel, makes it barely uncomfortable? 

Brittany S. Hall and Drew Fuller in a scene from "Test Pattern."

Brittany S. Corridor and Drew Fuller in a scene from “Take a look at Sample.”

It’s not a simple movie. 

No, it’s not. And I feel when you’re making enterprise selections, that’s one thing you’re not going to again. And that’s form of what occurred. I went again to financiers, as a result of belief me, these bank cards that I had taken out? I wanted assist. I spoke to financiers in the summertime of 2018 and confirmed them cuts. Most people had been enthusiastic, however they weren’t going to place cash in it as a result of there was no assure that the movie would get right into a top-tier competition. And with out that, they will’t make sure that somebody will purchase it and due to this fact they don’t understand how they will get a return on their funding. Which creates, by the best way, a conundrum. Proper? Rewind again to 2015 when everybody was complaining about not having numerous filmmakers. However on the similar time, they’re not keen to alter their enterprise mannequin to include that, which was disappointing, however not stunning.

So you set every thing on the road to make this film. Went into debt, known as on pals, spoke to traders. You actually made this occur. And you then look over throughout the aisle and also you see filmmakers who every thing is simply really easy for. Does that frustrate you? How can you hold your head within the recreation and keep motivated with all of those obstacles?

Initially, I’m actually very glad that it didn’t occur the opposite method. As a result of I feel what additionally helps good artwork is a separation from commerce. I didn’t have any further voices within the room telling me what I ought to and shouldn’t do. And I received to totally and fully belief myself. Which meant that no matter got here out of it was going to be at the very least, you already know, precisely what I used to be making an attempt to specific. And folk can resonate with that or not. They will wish to get behind it or not, however at the very least it’s what I needed to say. Associated to that, what saved me motivated is that I had one thing to say.

I discussed earlier that this isn’t a simple movie, however I love that it’s not a simple movie. The story you’re telling may very well be advised in a method that that might be very simply digestible. However I feel the factor that caught out to me essentially the most in regards to the movie was the — I don’t know if ambiguity is the fitting phrase, however there are numerous views at play. I watched the movie 3 times and every time I watched it, I assumed, “Oh wait, wait, truly, this is what’s taking place. No, this is what’s taking place.”

Oh, my god. I’m so glad. I’m so glad you mentioned that. [Laughs]

One half that I used to be, like, gagging at was the flashback to when Kenesha and Evan are chilling within the yard and he’s gazing her and she or he’s like, “What are you pondering?” And he says he’s serious about the subsequent tattoo he needs to offer her, he says, “I wish to model you. As a result of I personal you.” And it didn’t hit me till just like the second watch, the place I used to be like, “Wait, truly? Evan is the worst.”

Yeah, lady. [Laughs] Sure.

All of the sudden, the angle is shifted. He’s not this sort, supportive boyfriend who’s simply making an attempt to assist his girlfriend. Truly, he’s not respecting her boundaries. He’s not respecting her autonomy. He’s making her go on this wild goose chase that’s solely additional traumatizing her. And, as you mentioned earlier, all of it comes all the way down to perspective. From his perspective as a white man, in fact, getting her a rape equipment is what he must do as a result of that’s going to make him really feel like he has management of the state of affairs, of her. Are you able to discuss somewhat bit about that?

Initially, I’m simply actually glad, like I mentioned, that you just received one thing from it with every viewing and there was stuff that you just seen the second time that was simply as surprising. That’s all I ever need from artwork. That’s what I would like from a film. I like once I can depart a theater and want to take a seat with one thing and break it down and debate it with different folks. I additionally love when artwork grows with me. I feel a few of it’s simply experiential, proper? It’s like I’ve been introduced a perspective or an expertise that I’m not absolutely uncovered to or used to, however I see it. I’ve lived it with these characters and now I’m going to undergo my life and one thing’s going to occur that’s going to make me give it some thought. 

I feel for me personally, as an artist, my job is to be having a dialog with work that’s come earlier than me and my viewers. And what I’m making an attempt to specific to them in the end, more often than not, is that how they see the world and the way they work together with others is totally knowledgeable by their experiences and the context. And so I’m simply holding up a mirror to you. That’s the aim of this film, specifically. I’m holding up a mirror and what you’re doing is taking a look at your self, taking a look at a state of affairs by your personal ideology, your personal judgment, and your personal expertise. That’s what’s being mirrored again to you.

Having mentioned that, to have the ability to maintain up a mirror I’ve to be as goal as I presumably could be. I don’t like being too prescriptive and I actually err on the facet of subtlety. I prefer to keep away from apparent dialogue if I can, at any level. And that opens itself as much as how I labored with Will and Brittany on this movie specifically. I had written phrases down, however for essentially the most half I used to be at all times open to them form of altering it and ingesting it, because it made sense to them for his or her character. The one time I might name it out was if it simply didn’t really feel emotionally appropriate with their character or if it was like a very necessary piece of data that I completely thought wanted to be expressed.

Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill in a scene from "Test Pattern."

Brittany S. Corridor and Will Brill in a scene from “Take a look at Sample.”

Was it necessary for you on your result in be a Black girl?

An important factor that I prioritize, and that is very a lot in dialog with different work, is that we very hardly ever heart the interior life and expertise of Black ladies. I made a deliberate selection for us to go on that inside journey with Renesha. Renesha is absolutely and fully centered on this movie. I’m not fascinated about serving the expertise or point-of-view of white folks. I simply don’t care.

I simply don’t care! I like that. When watching I may sense that the filmmaker behind this film was not making it particularly with the white gaze in thoughts. I by no means felt that with Renesha’s journey, which was actually attention-grabbing as a result of she has a white boyfriend who’s current all through. Considered one of your fundamental characters is that this white man who, at the very least at first, we’re led to kind of root for, however his presence within the film doesn’t ever trump or overshadow the journey that Renesha is on. How had been you capable of finding that steadiness? 

I imply, some folks would disagree. [Laughs] I’ve heard it rather a lot that there’s an excessive amount of of him. However even that’s intentional, proper? As a result of white folks at all times heart themselves. I imply, if films are about want success, yeah, he wouldn’t be in it in any respect. However like, it’s not. The entire level is, yeah, there’s an excessive amount of of him, somewhat bit, as a result of there’s at all times an excessive amount of of them. In order I’m making an attempt to set that steadiness these are the issues that I’m serious about. I’m not right here making an attempt to make a documentary. I’m not solely on the earth of verité realism but additionally I do discover it necessary as a result of one of many issues that I’m saying is that, “That is actual shit, guys. You white folks heart your self method an excessive amount of in our stuff. Males, you heart your self method an excessive amount of in our stuff. You don’t take into consideration us.” In my very own film, you’re nonetheless method too current.

His fixed presence and his fixed makes an attempt to take management of the state of affairs, for me, solely heightened what she was going by. And really that’s one other factor. I imply, I discussed reminiscence, however I personally am a survivor and I’ve actually grappled rather a lot with the shakiness of reminiscence and the way reminiscence is commonly used to both legitimize or delegitimize an expertise. Within the movie, I may sense and perceive Renesha’s kind of ambivalence — “I really feel violated, however I additionally really feel like I don’t actually know what occurred.”

Completely. Such as you, I’ve my very own experiences and trauma does a doozy on the reminiscence. One of many issues that I’ve such a difficulty with is the best way wherein we discuss in regards to the spectrum of assault and rape. Particularly, the best way that we prosecute, the best way that we confront it. Trauma throughout the board is deeply inside and non-linear. And our reminiscence — whether or not we’re intoxicated or not, drugged or not — our reminiscence is affected as a result of it’s partially how our physique is about as much as assist us navigate and cope from one thing deeply horrible. And so it’s actually, actually, actually unfair once we’re required to show one thing when inherently, like, I imply, it’s simply, I don’t know, the chances are at all times stacked in opposition to you due to the best way wherein the expertise alters your notion of actuality and your self. 

As somebody who lives with PTSD, I do know that I can take into consideration a state of affairs again and again and again and again and it’ll appear and feel totally different every time. Simply barely. After which there are moments the place I see issues very clearly and it’s been 20 years. And that is likely to be the time that I’m prepared to speak about it, however then there’s like a statute of limitations and all of those different issues that make it irrelevant. It’s so unfair. One thing I used to be actually making an attempt to specific on this film is that the assault itself and the journey to search out the rape equipment, in some methods it’s fully arbitrary as a result of Renesha has her personal journey to go on and that’s on her personal timeline. And which may not be proper now. It possible isn’t proper now. And what different harm have we simply given her? As a result of it compounds trauma.

What selections did you make in conveying that, particularly the results trauma has on reminiscence?

Reminiscence is one thing that’s actually necessary to me as a filmmaker generally, as a instrument that I exploit. I really feel like as we’re navigating the world, we’re feeling compound trauma consistently. Subsequently we’re not absolutely in contact with the issues that we’re experiencing and seeing more often than not. And once I take into consideration Renesha and I take into consideration the non-linear reflection of her relationship with Evan, which is what we’re seeing, we see these items out of context. She’s asking herself what the fuck is mistaken with him and why is he, why is he performing like this proper now? And what she’s doing is, all of the little issues that she wasn’t taking note of earlier than, she’s now seeing otherwise. Just like the branding. 


It’s like, “Oh! Oh, that’s candy. He loves me a lot. I’m his, isn’t that so romantic?” And once more, some folks actually discover possession an expression of affection. I personally don’t, however I get how that could be a factor. And possibly Renesha on the time thought, “He actually loves me. I’m his.” And now she’s like, “Oh my God. That is what that was. That doesn’t really feel good.” What I used to be making an attempt to specific is that she’s making an attempt to ask herself, “Nicely, if I knew this about him, what made me wish to be with him? What was happening?”

It virtually makes you marvel if he was simply manipulating her the entire time.

I feel it’s worse than that. I want Evan was nefarious, identical to a horrible, evil, mustache-twirling white man that wishes possession of a girl. However I feel Evan feels deeply insecure on this second. He’s not able to serious about anybody however himself in that second. And Renesha’s whole being is a casualty.

I learn that all your division heads had been ladies, your crew was like 60% BIPOC and far of the solid and crew determine as queer and I feel that’s actually superb. What was it like to have the ability to share the expertise of creating your first characteristic with such a — I hate the phrase numerous, however I can’t consider one other phrase — numerous solid and crew?

For me, it wasn’t arduous [to have a diverse crew] as a result of I already knew most of those folks and if I didn’t know them, the individuals who I employed employed them! The rationale why there’s so many units filled with simply white dudes is as a result of they’re additionally hiring those who they know they’ll really feel snug with.

It’s truly tougher to exit of your technique to discover folks exterior of your circle. And belief me, that could be a battle, even for me. My circle simply occurs to be numerous, you already know what I’m saying? Nevertheless it’s arduous. So it’s one thing that I inform myself I have to get higher at too. I like my pals. I belief my pals. The identical those who I labored on “Take a look at Sample” with I’ll wish to work on something with, for the remainder of time. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that by doing that, I take alternatives away from different folks.

Why do you assume that it’s such a difficulty presently within the trade?

It goes again to what I used to be saying about how I received this film made to start with. In the event you’re not keen to alter the enterprise mannequin, the trade can’t change. I feel what we neglect about in our trade is that you need to be extremely privileged to be there. You must know any person. You must be keen to be paid nothing. Not even keen. You must have the means to be paid nothing. Which means any person has received to be paying your payments. I imply, somebody will need to have a free little bit of lodging for you. That isn’t one thing that’s simple for marginalized of us. I feel additionally it’s like a tradition, proper? It’s about who you heart and I feel an excessive amount of of our enterprise facilities straight cishet white males. And generally we [marginalized people] simply don’t wish to be in these environments. There’s so many causes which can be institutional that now we have not reconciled.

If I give it some thought within the context of this movie, I most likely may have employed much less white males than I did [Laughs]. I may’ve most likely accomplished with much less, however that’s actually arduous.

However I’ll proceed to carry myself accountable for that. And I shall be sincere once I’m not doing it sufficient. As a result of that’s one other factor about our enterprise — most individuals don’t prefer to be known as out. There’s no method we will do higher if we’re not keen to confess our personal flaws in that respect.

What was your largest takeaway as a filmmaker in making this film?

The largest takeaway that I had is that though I’ll most likely produce once more and I’ll produce my very own work in some capability, the extent of manufacturing that I had taken on with this movie I’ll by no means do once more if I’m directing as a result of it’s an excessive amount of. 

Lastly, are you able to discuss somewhat bit about your emotional journey whereas making the film?

I cried on a regular basis. That was partially as a result of I felt numerous strain. Possibly I used to be feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome too. Like, “Oh my God, I satisfied 40 folks to go on a airplane and are available to Texas.” [Laughs] And I didn’t actually inform lots of people that I used to be funding this off of bank cards and scraping and begging for cash on a regular basis. I actually tried to offer the set a way of monetary stability. In order that’s arduous too, to not be susceptible and sincere in some moments when financially we’re feeling extremely strapped and it’s taking a toll on me.

I keep in mind there was this second the place I had a very aggravating day of simply form of choosing places and committing cash to folks. And my line producer got here as much as me and advised me about one other drawback. And the rationale why I’m being imprecise is as a result of I don’t keep in mind it. And I don’t keep in mind it as a result of I fainted. [Laughs] I felt like I owed folks rather a lot. All of my heads of division who’re so unbelievable had been additionally taking a threat by doing this movie and I needed to ensure it was good. And I needed to guarantee that I gave folks issues that would assist them with their careers too. That was numerous accountability.

On high of the truth that I’d say our crew was majority feminine, and many people had been processing our personal stuff. I feel one thing good that occurred with the Me Too motion is that when one particular person begins speaking about their very own assault, issues begin clicking for you. Stuff that possibly you’ve by no means even thought of, abruptly you’re serious about and there’s a ripple impact. And I discovered on our set, particularly me and my heads of departments, we had been all speaking, and going by our personal form of inside evaluations. All of it was actually arduous, however tremendous satisfying, essential, and fully worthwhile. 

“Take a look at Sample” opens Friday in digital theaters through Kino Lorber.

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