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The Golden Globes released this year’s nominees and we were disappointed (though not surprised) to see the lack of BIPOC actors represented, especially women of color, and the stats prove they were never in our favor. See, research shows that 17 percent of women of color had leading or co-leading roles in 2019 (which was only a six percent increase from the year before). The number is slowly rising, but what the study doesn’t account for is how these leads are really presented to us.

Enter The Kent Test. It’s a chance to see if this small percentage is even worth celebrating if women of color are not treated with the same attention as non-women of color in the media. So, I decided to play movie critic this week and take a closer look at two of Netflix’s popular TV shows: Bridgerton and Sweet Magnolias. Do these fan favorites pass (or fail miserably) at the Kent Test?

RELATED: An Honest Review of the #2 Show on Netflix Right Now: ‘Bridgerton’

What’s the Kent Test?

In 2018, culture writer and critic Clarkisha Kent introduced the world to The Kent Test. Similar to the Bechdel-Wallace (which takes a closer look at how women are portrayed in media), this representation guide focuses primarily on women of color in television and film.

The Kent Test follows a point system broken down into eight categories:

  • The character should not solely be a walking stereotype/trope. (1 point)
  • The character should have their own plot/narrative arc. (1 point)
  • The character should not be included for the purpose of “holding down” some male character and his story. (1 point)
  • The character should not be included in the narrative to prop up a white woman character and her story. (1 point)
  • The character should not exist for the purpose of fetishization. (1 point)
  • The character should have at least one interaction with another woman of color (1 point) and a bonus point will be given if both characters aren’t related in any way. (1 point)
  • The character must not be the go-to character “sacrificed” in a film/tv show. (1 point)

The points are a reflection of how women of color are depicted in these roles. If the TV show or film keeps all 8 points, it showcases a strong representation. However, the more points lost, the more we need to take a look at how well this show/movie really showcases BIPOC women. But more importantly, this analysis can also provide insights into how future shows and movies can better portray women of color across the board. So, do Bridgerton and Sweet Magnolias make the cut?

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LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Bridgerton

The Premise: The show follows the Bridgerton and Featherington family through the eyes of the anonymous writer Lady Whistledown. In particular, the story revolves around Daphne Bridgerton and the Duke of Hasting Simon Basset's complex relationship along with the drama surrounding the royal city.
Characters in Question: Lady Danbury, Marina Thompson and Queen Charlotte
Does it Pass the Kent Test? Uh...

1. The character should not solely be a walking stereotype/trope.
Score: 1 point

From the start, Bridgerton showcases a diverse cast at every level of the fictitious royal world. Whether it was the servants or the Queen’s entourage, BIPOC women weren’t glued to one position. For a moment, I rolled my eyes at the thought that women of color were only going to be the help, until I saw Lady Danbury and Queen Charlotte as prime examples of Black women in high power.

2. The character should have their own plot/narrative arc.
Score: 1/2 point

I’m fully aware that this show is about the Bridgertons and the Featheringtons. Also, it’s the first season, so we have plenty of time to dive into Lady Danbury and Queen Charlotte’s stories. We saw a glimpse of the relationship between Queen Charlotte and King George III, but I still don’t know them well enough to say they have an entire storyline catering to the plot. Both women were almost like puzzle pieces in the overall plot to get Daphne and the Duke (or, in the case of the Queen at one point, Daphne and the Prince) together.

However, I give this section a half-point because Marina Thompson was close to having her own plot, but I’m wary to give a full point, since her story is a bit problematic (which I’ll explain in more depth in the next two sections).

3. The character should not be included for the purpose of “holding down” some male character and his story.
Score: 0 points

From the moment Lady Danbury and the Duke interact, it’s clear that she’s only there to be a guiding figure for him. (His childhood flashbacks are further evidence that this is true.) She’s always scolding him when he’s not fighting for Daphne and throwing elaborate parties to, again, get him closer to his goal of being with Daphne. Lady Danbury is a parental figure, but will the next seasons explore who she is without the Duke? Like, I need to know more about her married-only events and how she became such a badass.

And let’s be honest about Thompson’s character: Her whole storyline revolved around finding a husband to hide her pregnancy. Her character really took a left turn when she received a ‘letter’ from Sir George. She turned manipulative and relied on Colin Bridgerton to solve her problems. After the secret was out, Thompson was the villain and Bridgerton left a sad man. However, it didn’t take long for him to still live out his dream as a traveler and Thompson (like most of the characters on Bridgerton) to marry for convenience (even if it was her dead lover’s brother).

4. The character should not be included in the narrative to prop up a white woman character and her story.
Score: 0 points

Again, Thompson’s character was there to cause problems. She was an issue the moment she started receiving suitors over the Featherington girls. Thompson became a bigger problem when they found out she was pregnant. She was treated as less-than by Baroness Featherington and overall, seemed like a burden to the family and their name. Once her secret was out, it basically tarnished the whole family, and when she was finally sent away, it seemed like all was restored. Did I mention that in the beginning of the season, she barely (barely) had a speaking role? Thompson was there just to make them look like good characters (when most of the time they were not).

Oh, and let’s not forget when she tried to kill her child after her secret came out (which Penelope released). And um, excuse me, why didn’t Thompson call out the Baroness for ruining her life by giving her a false letter?!

5. The character should not exist for the purpose of fetishization.
Score: 1 point

Despite Thompson receiving a bunch of suitors (good or bad), she was never once fetishized because of her race. The show does a good job at showing diversity but not homing in on the differences. Race is not an issue nor a storyline that treats the women of color like objects on the show.

6. The character should have at least one interaction with another woman of color. A bonus point will be given if both characters aren’t related in any way.
Score: 2 points

If we’re talking about all of the characters (including side or extras), then points all around. But, when you only have three main characters that are women of color, it’s pretty limited. Lady Danbury and the Queen only interacted briefly, but if you blink, you’ll miss it. Not once did they interact with Thompson, which played on the fact that she was an outsider who didn’t belong there. As for Lady Danbury and the Queen, I’ll give them the point (but that’s a bit generous on my part).

7. The character must not be the go-to character “sacrificed” in a film/tv show.
Score: 1 point

As mentioned before, Thompson caused disruption and ruined the Featherington’s name. Once she left (and ultimately set for a life she didn’t want), they saw light at the end of the tunnel (though the last episode said otherwise). Basically, she “sacrificed” her happiness for the sake of restoring their standing in society and marrying her ex-lover’s brother.

Kent Test Total Score: 4.5/8

The Bottom Line: Overall, Bridgerton gets 4.5 out of 8 points and stands as a show containing “middling to fair representation” for women of color. While the show is inclusive, the storylines given to these characters say otherwise. My hope is that we see these characters grow in the upcoming seasons and add even more women of color to main roles (and not for the purpose of causing catastrophes).

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ELIZA MORSE/NETFLIX

Sweet Magnolias

The Premise: The show follows three women—Maddie Townsend, Dana Sue Sullivan and Helen Decatur—who live in a southern town called Serenity. The childhood friends deal with their relationships, career and the bustling small town together.

The Characters in Question: Helen Decatur
Does it Pass the Kent Test:? 100% yes!

1. The character should not solely be a walking stereotype/trope.
Score: 1 point

When I tell you Helen Decatur is the best character on the show, I mean it. She is a powerful attorney, a wonderful friend and a complex person. The whole season we got to see different layers of Decatur, and she was definitely not only there to lift her white friends up. She really stood out as a positive role model in Serenity. Honestly, I can write an ode to Decatur.

2. The character should have their own plot/narrative arc.
Score: 1 point

At first, her plot seemed unclear and all over the place. However, there were a few distinct plot points worth pointing out. First, she wanted children. This dream was pushed aside for most of the season, but after the discussion she had with her on-and-off boyfriend Ryan Wingate, it became more apparent that this was what she wanted, even if it meant saying her final goodbye to her first love. I hope they continue to explore this part of her journey.

Another arc was understanding the character itself. Like I mentioned, Decatur is a lawyer, and she can solve just about any case in town. She hardly says no to anyone (she did mock trials while doing her cases while managing the spa) and always has the answers for everything. But we learn right away, she has a hard time putting her feelings and wants first. Thanks to Erik Whitley, we see a side of Decatur that not many people (aside from her friends) get to see. Sweet Magnolias lets us see every side of this character without it being attached to the others.

3. The character should not be included for the purpose of “holding down” some male character and his story.
Score: 1 point

Decatur was never there to hold down a male character. Although Wingate came to disrupt the construction of the spa and later stick to his stance of not wanting children, she never strays away from what she wants and needs. The only time she’s helping a male character is when she’s working a case or showing off her expertise (aka mock trials).

4. The character should not be included in the narrative to prop up a white woman character and her story.
Score: 1 point

I was nervous that although she was listed as one of the main characters, her role would be overshadowed by Maddie Townsend and Dana Sue Sullivan, but I was completely wrong. Yes, she helped her best friends, but when she needed them, they were there (even if it was a little early for margaritas). Her plotlines are examples that she can hold her own without these other characters.

5. The character should not exist for the purpose of fetishization.
Score: 1 point

She was never oversexualized or fetishized. While being in an interracial relationship, Wingman never once treated her differently because of the color of her skin. Decatur isn’t represented as the “Black friend” or “the Black lawyer.” Her race was mentioned briefly to address her boyfriend’s father, but other than that, her Blackness is never exploited for the purpose of the story.

6. The character should have at least one interaction with another woman of color. A bonus point will be given if both characters aren’t related in any way.
Score: 2 points

Can I give this 10,000 points? The scene between Decatur and Pastor June Wilkes is among my favorite scenes of the Netflix show. She was interacting with the pastor and it wasn’t rushed or surrounded by other characters. It was a moment where Decatur got to showcase her vulnerability and ask advice from another woman of color. The scene was a refreshing sight and impacted the next steps in Decatur’s choices.

The lawyer also interacts with journalist Peggy Martin. While the two aren’t exactly friends, they still show professionalism and respect toward each other. The last interaction Decatur and Martin had makes me hope a growing friendship is in the works.

7. The character must not be the go-to character “sacrificed” in a film/tv show.
Score: 1 point

She didn’t “sacrifice” herself at any point of the series, even when the love of her life said he didn’t want kids. While Decatur is still trying to learn to put herself first, she doesn’t try to make herself less than.

Kent Test Total Score: 8/8

The Bottom Line: Overall, Sweet Magnolia keeps all eight points and stands as the show containing “strong representation” for women of color. Decatur is a positive character and one I looked forward to seeing every episode. One of the reasons why the show is so good is because it gives attention to all the characters. I look forward to seeing Decatur’s storylines grow even more in the next season.

The Kent Test opened my eyes to see how far we’ve come in BIPOC women representation. For the longest, so many stories were told in the same way (with a heavy emphasis on stereotypes and uplifting non-BIPOC characters). Bridgerton and Sweet Magnolia showed me two sides of the spectrum. While we’ve grown to show better portrayals, there’s still work that still needs to be done that gives us fleshed-out WOC characters on television and film. So, what should I test next?

RELATED: I Watched the First Episode of Netflix’s ‘Sweet Magnolias’ & Here’s My Honest Opinion

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