Shatara Michelle Ford’s debut feature Test Pattern (2019) centres on interracial couple Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill). Their relationship is tested when Renesha is sexually assaulted. Evan insistently pursues a rape kit, only to encounter medical and administrative incompetence at every turn.
It’s a subtly disturbing work that offers a different perspective on the experience of sexual assault, foregoing a dramatic narrative arch to emphasise this moment in Renesha’s life. If the film is a critique of systemic failures and institutional racism, as well as the influence of patriarchy in womens’ lives, much is unspoken and statements by the filmmaker are subtly quiet.
In conversation with PopMatters, Ford talks about choosing not to say what she means, analysing the complexity of human behaviour, and the need to interrogate how we think.
Why filmmaking as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you? And do you enjoy the process, or does satisfaction come when you see the completed film?
It’s a combination of things. I had pretty strict parents, and so I didn’t do much but read books and watch television. I had cable, so that meant watching a lot of movies. My parents also loved movies and we went to the cinema every Friday night after we’d been to some chain restaurant in St. Louis, Missouri.
The cinematic language comes very naturally to me because I was so all into movies. Or it might just be who I am as a person, and that’s how I communicate.
I liked drama class and theatre. I also enjoyed the process of working with others and trying to tangibly express human emotions. Filmmaking is an artistic medium that’s so wonderful, purely because of the collaborations. I do enjoy what comes out of it, but at the end of the day, you have very little control of the end result. That’s also really cool, bu it can be scary.
I love the process. If I could wake up and spend the day with the same group of collaborators: actors, musicians, composers, and filmmakers, I would.
I think a lot about or maybe I romanticise the way which Mike Leigh works. He has this lovely company of the actors and collaborators. They have a sketch of an idea of what the story is, they put all their bits and pieces together, and build something beautiful and cool.