The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Empire, “Light in Darkness” – Season 3, Episode 1

EMPIRE: Morocco Omari in the "Light in Darkness" episode of EMPIRE premiering Wednesday, Sept. 21 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Chuck Hodes/FOX

On the returning episode of Empire, “Light in Darkness,” the Lion family was in a stir (to put it mildly). Rhonda had been killed, and before anyone had a chance to process her death, Anika went into labor and the cops and the FBI were knocking down the Lion family door. So basically, “Light in Darkness” was just another typical old day for the Lions.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

“Light in Darkness” passed the Bechdel, Russo and race test.

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Lucious and Cookie discuss Anika.

There were a couple of named women in “Light in Darkness,” and while these women hardly ever talked to each other, the episode nonetheless passed the Bechdel test. Why? Because there was one instance where named women talked to each other without mentioning men (e.g., Juanita and Anika discussed Anika’s living arrangements).

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When Jamal tries to perform a new song, he experiences PTSD symptoms.

“Light in Darkness” also passed the Russo test. The episode passed this diversity test because there were two LGBTI characters in “Light in Darkness,” Jamal and Tiana, and out of these two, one (Jamal) was not solely defined by his sexual orientation (e.g., Jamal was largely defined as being a signer and as being Lucious’ son) and his removal from “Light in Darkness” would have significantly affected the plot (e.g., Jamal’s removal from the episode would have affected the plot because “Light in Darkness” was an ensemble episode and he was part of the main ensemble and he had a part in the overall plotline).*****

In regards to the race test, there were many non-White individuals in “Light in Darkness” and because there were several instances where some of the non-White individuals in the episode talked to each other without mentioning White people, “Light in Darkness” easily passed the race test.

*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.

*****”Light in Darkness” would not have passed the Russo test if Tiana had been the only LGBTI character in the episode, and “Light in Darkness” would not have passed this diversity test because while Tiana was solely defined by her sexuality and her last relationship with Hakeem and her removal from the episode would not have significantly affected the plot (her removal , for example, would not have affected the plot because she was barely in “Light in Darkness” and she didn’t really have anything major to do with the plotline).

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