The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Empire, “Past Is Prologue” – Season 2, Episode 18

The Lyon family was a bit out of sorts on the finale of Empire, “Past Is Prologue.” To be more specific, the FBI was doing their best to force Anika to testify against the Lyons; unwanted guests were invited to Hakeem and Laura’s wedding; Jamal no longer wanted to sing; Rhonda went after Anika; and Lucious was placed in a position where he was forced to marry Anika. “Past Is Prologue,” it is thus suffice to say, was a busy and an eventful finale.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

“Past Is Prologue” passed the Bechdel, Russo and race test.

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An artist performs at Hakeem and Laura’s wedding.

There were several named women in “Past Is Prologue” and there were several instances where some of these named women talked to each other, and while men were usually mentioned whenever named women talked to each other, there was one instance where named women talked to each other without mentioning men (e.g., Rhonda accused Anika of pushing her down the stairs) so the episode passed the Bechdel test. “Past Is Prologue” also passed the Russo and race test.

“Past Is Prologue” passed the Russo test because out of the two LGBTI characters that were in “Past Is Prologue,” Jamal and D-Major, one (i.e., Jamal) was not solely defined by his sexual orientation (e.g., Jamal was also defined as being a musician) and his removal from “Past Is Prologue” would have significantly affected the episode’s plot as he played a large part in “Past Is Prologue.”*****

As to the race test, there were many non-White individuals in “Past Is Prologue” and the episode passed the race test because there were several instances where some of the non-White individuals in the episode 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.

*****”Past Is Prologue” would not have passed the Russo test if D-Major had been the only LGBTI character in the episode because while he was not solely defined by his sexual orientation (e.g., he was also defined as being a musician), his removal from “Past Is Prologue” would not have significantly affected the episode’s plot as he didn’t have much to do with the plot.

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