The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Carol

Carol, an epic romance, is a tale of Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett).

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Carol consults Therese and she asks Therese what she thinks she should buy for her daughter.

Therese is a young woman who works at a toy store. She doesn’t like her job and she would much rather work as a photographer but she feels stuck, in more ways than one. This, however, all changes for Therese when she encounters Carol, a high society woman in the midst of a divorce.

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Carol shares one last dance with her husband.

Carol isn’t quite like anyone Therese has ever known. She is confident and sure of herself, a bit mysterious, and she does whatever she pleases, people’s opinions be damned.

Therese finds herself drawn to this older, confident woman, and together, the two embark on a journey that is full of complications, challenges, and ultimately, self-discovery and fulfillment.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

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

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Therese visits Carol’s home and plays for her.

In Carol, there are virtually no people of color (e.g., there are maybe two non-White individuals, at most, in the film) and because the few non-White individuals that are in the film never speak to each other, Carol does not pass the race test. Carol does, however, pass the Bechdel and Russo test and it does so easily.

Carol centers around two women – Carol and Therese – and the film is primarily about women and their relationships with one another. As a consequence of this, there are many instances where women talk to each other in Carol, and because the main women who speak to each other in the film have names (e.g., Carol, Therese and Abby [Sarah Paulson]) and they often don’t speak of men, the film passes the Bechdel test.

Carol passes the Russo test because there are three lesbian characters in the film, Carol, Therese and Abby, and these characters are not solely defined by their sexual orientation (i.e., Therese is also defined as being a photographer, Carol is defined as being a mother and Abby is defined as being a friend) and their removal from the film would significantly affect the plot as two of the characters are the leads of the film and the other character, Abby, is an important supporting character that adds and contributes to the leads’ storylines (e.g., Abby aids Carol in her relationship with her husband, her daughter and with Therese).

*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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