The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Scream Queens, “Hell Week” – Season 1, Episode 1 and 2

Scream Queens premiered this week with “Hell Week” which did its best to be as offensive as possible. For example, one of the very first lines in the episode was, “That obese specimen of human filth scrubbing bulimia vomit out of the carpet is Ms. Bean, but I call her White Mammy because she’s essentially a house slave.” And that’s only a taste of how offensive the episode was. Trust me, a lot more went down.

As to what the actual plot was behind the first episode, well, it was basically all about how a sorority called Kappa Kappa Tau was recruiting for new sisters during rush week, and how throughout the process, a string of murders took place on campus and only those in and associated with Kappa House were murdered.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

“Hell Week” passed the Bechdel, Russo and race test.

Chanel telling her new sisters the rules for hell week.

Most of the characters in “Hell Week” were women so there were plenty of instances where named women talked to each other without mentioning men. Consequently, “Hell Week” easily passed the Bechdel test. In terms of LGBTI representation, there were two LGBTI characters in “Hell Week” – Sam and Boone.

In the case of Sam, besides being a lesbian, she was also a college student and a sorority sister, but because she really didn’t do much nor did she play an important part in “Hell Week” (translation: her removal from the episode wouldn’t have impacted the plot), she did not pass the Russo test. Boone, however, did pass the Russo test (and the episode thus passed the Russo test as well) since he is gay and he was in the episode; because he was not solely defined by his sexual orientation (e.g., he was also a fraternity brother, a schemer and a college student); and because it would have been impossible to have removed him from the episode without significantly changing the plot of “Hell Week” since it was revealed that he was an accomplice to the murders.

“Hell Week” also managed to pass the race test despite the fact that the handful of non-White people in the episode barely talked to each other, and “Hell Week” passed this test because there was one instance where non-White actors talked to each other without mentioning White people (e.g., Denise [Niecy Nash] asked Shondell [Deneen Tyler] what she was doing at the sorority house).

*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 show 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 show 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 television. 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 show.