"Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in [Mainstream Film Title]" is a new Tumblr project by Welcome to Night Vale's Dylan Marron, which has so far reduced 11 mainstream films to the lines spoken by people of color, with startling results. All of the films are under a minute long, five of them are under 30 seconds, two of them (Into the Woods and Noah) are 10-second still videos that exist solely to illustrate that there was not a single line spoken by a person of color in the entire movie.
What is a speaking role and what is a meaningful role?
What's even more grabbing, though, is the type of characters that the people of color in these movies are playing — "New Secretary," "Bus Driver," "Letter Writer #2," "Pizza Vendor," "Uncomfortable Waitress," "Airport Man," and "Hostess," for example. Where people of color exist in these films, they exist primarily in service positions — massaging Natalie Portman's diaphragm, begging Justin Timberlake not to seat himself at a restaurant, making Zooey Deschanel's absence more clear by being brown-eyed and dark-skinned where she used to be all porcelain and manga eyes. In Black Swan and The Fault in Our Stars, women of color are called upon to comfort white protagonists with about 40 seconds of soft-spoken dialogue apiece.
Similar to the Bechdel Test, which is meant to gauge gender representation in movies, it's a method which works better at picking out an overarching trend than it does at punching holes in individual films. The Bechdel Test aimed to pluck out films that represent women fairly, but Bridesmaids passes only narrowly, Beasts of the Southern Wild doesn't pass at all, and Sharknado passes with flying colors, despite the fact that its female characters exist solely as well-tanned pieces of meat in cutoffs. But the test's existence was enough to motivate people to start thinking about how women were being represented on screen, and eventually, to think about how that factored into how off-screen women enjoyed film (and obviously, to think about how these things could translate into money).
Every Single World is a project every bit as imperfect as the Bechdel Test — the fact that Frances Ha has almost no dialogue spoken by people of color isn't so much an accident fueled by prejudice as it is purposeful discrimination that serves the point of the script. The film is about two entitled white women in their insular entitled white world, struggling to become better people in spite of it. But it does well at drawing attention to the still galling absence of non-white people in most of the world's most successful films — of the 100 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2012, one study found, about 11 percent of the speaking characters were black, while 5 percent were Hispanic, 4.2 percent were Asian, and 3.6 percent were other (or mixed race) ethnicities, despite the fact that non-whites make up about 44 percent of the people who go to the movies, and a much higher percentage of people who exist in the world.
Looking at films on a case-by-case basis, like Marron does with this project, helps break this down further so that we can differentiate what is a speaking role and what is a meaningful role. Next let's talk about who's directing these movies, and why the internet was such a collective asshole about national treasure Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm.