The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Still Alice

Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer recently directed a new film, Still Alice – a film about a highly educated woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. The film is incredibly depressing as it is a realistic portrayal of what happens to someone and her family when she has Alzheimer’s, and while there are good writing, directing and acting aspects (it was most certainly Kirsten Stewart’s best acting to date) to Still Alice, the film flat-lines. There is no climax, no resolution. There is nothing that makes the audience feel particularly invested in the story – though Still Alice is not necessarily meant to be one of these kinds of films. Instead, Still Alice is purely meant to show what a woman and her family are like before she exhibits Alzheimer’s symptoms and what happens to all of them as her Alzheimer’s progresses. In this regard, Still Alice is truly unique as there has never been an American film which has portrayed a middle-aged woman with Alzheimer’s nor has there ever been a film that has portrayed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease so realistically. As to how Still Alice fairs when faced with the Bechdel, Russo and race test, the film passes the Bechdel test, but it does not pass the Russo or race test.

Still Alice passes the Bechdel test as there are several instances where named women talk to each other without mentioning men. The film does not pass the Russo or race test, however, because there are no LGBTI characters and because non-White characters never talk 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.