The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Girlhood

Girlhood is a coming-of-age tale of Marieme (Karidja Touré), a young schoolgirl who lives in the projects of Paris.

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Marieme.

Marieme has grownup raising her younger sisters while living in a neighborhood full of toxic masculinity and under the tyranny of an abusive brother. Marieme has never really had a chance to live her own life and be a kid so when Marieme learns that she cannot go to high school due to her poor grades, Marieme is finally pushed over the edge and she decides to take matters into her hands and to change the direction of her life. And how does Marieme does this? By joining a girl gang.

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Marieme encounters a girl gang outside of her school.

At first, Marieme isn’t completely sure what to make of the girl gang and their world of dance parties, fights and sisterhood, but she quickly acclimates and finds that she enjoys it. However, before too long,  Marieme finds herself leaving this world behind and attempting to carve her own path.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

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

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Marieme and her new found friends party.

Girlhood does not pass the Russo test, and the film does not pass this test because there are no LGBTI characters in Girlhood. The film does, however, pass the Bechdel and race test.

While there are men in Girlhood and they do play important parts in the film, Girlhood is largely about Marieme and her relationships with girls and women. The cast is thus mostly composed of girls and women (several of which have names) and because there are many instances in Girlhood where named female characters not only speak to each other, but speak to each other without mentioning men, the film passes the Bechdel test.

As to the race test, Girlhood passes this test because there are many instances where non-White individuals talk to each other without mentioning White people and this is because most of the cast is Black and because the non-White cast’s characters’ storylines do not revolve around 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.

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