The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: While We’re Young

From Noah Baumbach comes While We’re Young, an indie film that is a bit reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The film has big named actors behind it (e.g., Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) and is about an older couple who befriends and interacts with a younger couple, but unlike Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, instead of being a tale of destruction and shocking revelations, While We’re Young is an examination of what it means to age and mature and how relationships change over the years. In other words, While We’re Young is about the coming-of-age of a middle-aged couple.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

While We’re Young passes the Bechdel test but does not pass the Russo or race test.

Cornelia at a Mommy and Me class.

There are a couple of named women in While We’re Young who occasionally speak to each other, and of the few times where they talk to each other, there are two instances where men aren’t mentioned in their conversation (e.g., Cornelia [Naomi Watts] and Darby [Amanda Seyfried] talk to each other about cats and Marnia [Maria Dizzia] invites Cornelia to go to a Mommy and Me class) so the film passes the Bechdel test. The film does not, however, pass either the Russo or race test, and While We’re Young does not pass these tests because there are no LGBTI characters in the film and because the handful of non-White people in the film never speak 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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