The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Empire, “Be True” – Season 2, Episode 5

On Empire, “Be True,” the charges against Lucious were dropped; Andre confessed his sins to his family and invited them to his baptism; the photographer who shot Jamal’s cover for The Rolling Stones made a move on Jamal; and Cookie was marked by extortionists.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

“Be True” passed the Bechdel, Russo and race test.

“Be True” passed the Bechdel test, and the episode passed this test because of the couple of times that named women talked to each other, there were two instances where men were not mentioned (e.g., Laura and Tiana greeted each other and Cookie told Porsha that she would re-hire her). “Be True” also passed the Russo and race test.

“Be True” passed the Russo test due to two different LGBTI characters – Jamal and the photographer. These two characters passed the Russo test because they are LGBTI and they were in the episode; because they were not solely defined by their sexual orientation (e.g., Jamal was also defined as being a musician and the photographer was defined as being an artist); and because their removal from the episode would have significantly affected the plot as both Jamal and the photographer played significant parts in “Be True.”*****

As to the race test, “Be True” passed this test because most of the cast in “Be True” were non-White so there were many instances non-White people talked 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 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.

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