Virtual Cinema | Thought-Provoking “Test Pattern” February 8, 2021
Films about sexual assault do not make for light viewing, yet talented filmmaker Shatara Michelle Ford, with a thoughtful touch, a political commitment to the subject matter, and an unconventional style offers a gift with Test Pattern. Ford’s work joins a very small number of independent films by women of color that take on the psychological aftermath of rape.
Test Pattern premiered at the 2019 BlackStar Film Festival, winning the Lionsgate/STARZ Producer Award recognizing Ford and collaborator Pin-Chu Liu. Ford has described her narrative storytelling approach as inspired by a generation of Black filmmakers at UCLA known as the L.A. Rebellion (1979–84). Filmmakers Andrea Arnold, Steve McQueen, and Lynne Ramsay—all trained in screenwriting in the UK—are also influences.
The Art of Building Psychological Tension
With Test Pattern, Ford masters the art of building psychological tension through the visual, making it a pleasure to experience. Sound creatively deployed in the film—and at some moments a lack of sound—takes viewers on this journey as well. Adding to the appeal of this debut film is the way it feels like independent cinema of another era.
It’s unusual to find a film so specifically Texas in its aesthetic, let alone one that centers on a Black female character. Details of Austin that sit well beyond the frame are on the mark and add charm to the storytelling: dive bars as sites of encounter, old houses, bright outdoor light, and tattoos that track the passing of time on the bodies of the characters in the film.
Within the ordinariness of the day-to-day, Test Pattern delivers a thought-provoking narrative about sexual assault. Some of the terror in this film lies in the seemingly benign racial dynamics of an interracial couple. The writing evokes questions of power dynamics between characters, from one scene to the next. What is possible for a young Black woman, a couple of years into a Trump presidency, as police violence continues with impunity? “Black people are prey,” the protagonist’s best friend articulates.
Audiences seeking a smart psychological film that offers an indie aesthetic and a lingering message should not miss this cinematic experience.
About the Author
Rachel Afi Quinn is an assistant professor at the University of Houston. Her first book, Being La Dominicana: Race and Visual Culture in Santo Domingo, is forthcoming this summer.
Underwriting for the Film Department is provided by Tenaris and the Vaughn Foundation. Generous funding is provided by Nina and Michael Zilkha; The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea; Franci Neely; Carrin Patman and Jim Derrick; Lois Chiles Foundation; ILEX Foundation; L’Alliance Française de Houston; and The Foundation for Independent Media Arts.