The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Selma

Selma tells the true story of how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped get African-Americans the right to vote without undue interference. The film was fantastic and full of stellar performances, but there were a few problems. First of all, there were absolutely no LGBTI characters. The film thus failed to pass the Russo test. Women were almost nonexistent as well. 

Women did talk a couple of times, but they mostly only existed as background noise, and they weren’t portrayed as having an active part in the Civil Rights Movement (at least not as much as the men did). It also seemed as if Coretta King was only included as a means to enrich and further Dr. King’s storyline and not because she played a valuable part in history. However, despite all of this, Selma did pass the Bechdel test. There was a single instance where named women talked to each other (women only ever talked to each other twice) without mentioning men. This instance occurred when Coretta talked to Amelia Boynton right before they entered a church. Selma also passed the race test since the majority of the cast was Black, and there were plenty of instances where White people weren’t mentioned when Black characters talked to each other.

*The Bechdel test entails three requirements:
1. It has to have at least two (named) women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

*The Vito Russo test entails three requirements:
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and/or transgender
2. The character must not be solely or predominately defined by her sexual orientation, gender identity and/or as being intersex
3.The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that her removal would have a significant effect

***The race or people of color (POC) test has three requirements:
1. It has two people of color in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something other than a White person

****Just because a film passes the Bechdel, Russo and race test does not mean that it is not sexist, heterosexist, racist and/or cissexist, etc. The Bechdel, Russo and race test is only a bare minimum qualifier for the representation of LGBTI individuals, women and people of color in film. The failure to pass these tests also does not identify whether the central character was a woman, a person of color or a LGBTQI individual and it does not dictate the quality of the film.

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