The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Arrival

A new, yet familiar, type of alien story has arrived in the form of Arrival.

Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is chosen to head a team of American linguists and scientists who will attempt to understand and communicate with the aliens.

In Arrival, 12 mysterious spaceships suddenly appear in various locations across the earth. Humanity, understandably, is upset by this new development, and in an effort to understand why these ships (and the aliens inside of them) have come to Earth, teams of linguists and scientists across the world embark to learn the aliens’ language and teach the aliens their (humanity’s) own.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Arrival passes the Bechdel test but it does not pass the Russo or race test.

Louise encounters the aliens that she will be working with for the very first time.

Arrival’s cast is primarily composed of men. The film, nonetheless, passes the Bechdel test, and Arrival passes this diversity test because there are two prominent women/girls in the film, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Hannah*****; Louise and Hannah talk to each other on a couple of occasions; and out of the times that Louise and Hannah talk to each other, there is one instance where they do not mention men (e.g., early on in Arrival, Louise chases after and teases a young Hannah, asking her if she wants to be tickled).

Louise discovers that the best way to communicate with the aliens is through a written language.

As to how Arrival fares when it comes to other diversity tests, there are no characters in Arrival who are ever identified as being LGBTI so the film does not pass the Russo test. Arrival also fails to pass the race test, and the film does not pass this diversity test because while there are a few non-White individuals in Arrival (the most prominent of which are Colonel Weber and General Shang as played by Forest Whitaker and Tzi Ma, respectively), there is never an instance where two or more non-White individuals talk to each other.

*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.

*****Louise and Hannah are the only two women/girls in the film who are ever named.