The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Affinity

An adaption of a Sarah Waters novel, Affinity is the tale of two women – Margaret Prior (Anna Madeley) and Selina Dawes (Zoë Tapper) – and how their stories intertwine.

Miss Prior has suffered two blows within the past several months – her father’s death and her lover’s marriage to her (Miss Prior’s) brother. Looking for something to pass the time and heal her wounded heart, Miss Prior decides to volunteer at a women’s prison and that is where she stumbles across Selina Dawes, an inmate.

Miss Dawes is a spiritualist who had previously lived with and worked for an upper class female sponsor, but when her host/employer suddenly died, Miss Dawes quickly found herself accused of and imprisoned for murder. Intrigued by the self-proclaimed innocent Miss Dawes, Miss Prior becomes friends with Miss Dawes (and more), and before she knows it, Miss Prior finds herself trying to free and run away with Miss Dawes, no matter what the cost.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Affinity does not pass the race test but it does pass the Bechdel and Russo test.

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Miss Prior imagines what life would be like if Miss Dawes was free.

Affinity does not pass the race test, and the film does not pass this test because there are no non-White actors in the film. The film does, however, pass the Bechdel test.

Most of the characters in Affinity are named women and because there are many instances in the film where named women not only speak to each other, but they talk to each other without mentioning men, the film passes the Bechdel test. The film also passes the Russo test, and Affinity passes this test because of four different LGBTI characters.

There are four LGBTI characters in Affinity – Miss Prior, Miss Dawes, Miss Ridley and Helen – and they all pass the Russo test. These characters pass the Russo test because they are LGBTI and in Affinity; because they are not solely defined by their sexual orientation (e.g., Miss Prior is also defined as being a woman and a daughter, Miss Dawes is defined as being a spiritualist, Miss Ridley is defined as being a housekeeper and Helen is defined as being a wife and mother); and because if they had been removed from the film, their removal would have significantly affected the plot of Affinity as they are all key players in the film.

*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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