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Crash course in the Vito Russo Test

Date: October 9, 2013 | Posted By: Molly

I was recently speaking to a friend of mine about the Bechdel Test and I asked whether or not there was a Bechdel equivalent for LGBTQ movie analysis. She said she thought that there must be, and after some research, I quickly came across the answer: the Vito Russo Test.

Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

The villain of the most recent Bond movie, Skyfall, a crucial character in a popular franchise that happens to also be bisexual.

Both the Bechdel Test and the Vito Russo Test are short checklists used to analyze how female- or LGBTQ-friendly a movie is.

Since this post is focused more on the Vito Russo Test, I’ll leave it up to you to research the Bechdel Test a bit on your own (hint: try here, here, and here).

The Vito Russo Test has the following three criteria:

1. The film contains a character that is identifying lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.

2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.

3. The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.

Doesn’t sound too outrageous, right? Unfortunately, only fourteen movies of the 101 released in 2012 from the six major Hollywood Studios even contained characters identified as either lesbian, gay, or bisexual and only six movies passed the Russo test: Cloud Atlas, Rock of Ages, Pitch Perfect, The Five-Year Engagement, Skyfall, and Fun Size.

It’s important to point out that passing the Russo Test doesn’t necessarily make the movie a good movie and not passing doesn’t make it a bad movie. The purpose of the Russo Test is to not categorize movies as “good” or “bad,” “inclusive” or “exclusive,” but to raise the awareness of screenwriters, studios, actors, and most importantly, audiences.

The ladies of Pitch Perfect, including an out lesbian.

The ladies of Pitch Perfect, including an out lesbian.

As members of the Hollywood audience, we have a responsibility to look closely at what we’re paying for and what we’re encouraging.

So, what does this mean? Next time you wait in line to buy a movie ticket or shop around for a new DVD, don’t necessarily start using the Russo Test (or the Bechdel Test) as the be-all and end-all for what you’ll allow yourself to watch, but keep the checklists in mind.

Look at what you choose to watch a little more closely and question why things might be the way they are — is this the way things have always been? How could this be more inclusive? How might you have done certain things differently if you had the opportunity?

The more we question, discuss, and recognize the inequalities in the world around us, especially in the media, the more we can become part of the solution.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Vito Russo Test, as well as the analyses of the movies mentioned, I strongly recommend that you head on over to GLAAD’s website and check out their 2012 report for additional awesome and useful information.

Molly Walter is a Pittsburgh-born Netflix enthusiast living and working in Boston.  She loves talking and writing about women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, and her unhealthy obsession with television.  She is currently trying to get up the courage to get her fourth tattoo, the feminist symbol in pink, purple, and blue — the colors of the bi pride flag.




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