The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Starred Up

Starred Up is a drama about Eric, a young man who is incarcerated and moved into an adult prison because he is too violent for his previous prison.

The new prison Eric moves into houses his estranged father. The two haven’t seen each other in over a decade, and their relationship is strained at best.  The two try to navigate a relationship with each other, but it is not easy for either man since Eric has a terribly violent and explosive temper and his father has no clue how to communicate with his son. Nonetheless, the two try their hardest to improve themselves and their relationship with each other.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Starred Up passes the Russo and race test but does not pass the Bechdel test.

The film obviously does not pass the Bechdel test since the film takes place in a male prison and there are only two women in the film (both of whom never speak to each other). The film does pass the Russo test, however, since Eric’s father, Neville, appears to be bisexual (he was dating a man while in prison), he is irreplaceable and he is not solely defined by his sexual orientation.

Some may argue that Neville is not bisexual as some men who normally identify themselves as heterosexual do engage in same sex relationships and/or sexual intercourse while in prison. However, I argue that just because someone is surrounded by the same sex for several years doesn’t mean that he’ll just randomly start dating the same sex completely out of the blue. There had to have been some part of him that had always been attracted to the same sex (at least on some level) and it just wasn’t until he was forced into unusual and constricting circumstances that he was willing to explore that part of his sexuality. Thus, I view Neville as being bisexual.

As to how Neville is irreplaceable, Neville is part of the major plotline of the film as Starred Up is primarily about Neville and Eric’s relationship. Neville is also not solely defined by his sexual orientation as the audience also knows him to be a leader and a father, and the film passes the race test since there are a couple of instances where non-White characters talk to each other without mentioning White people.

*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.