The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Hidden Figures

Easily one of the best films of the year, Hidden Figures is based on the true stories of several Black American women who worked at NASA in the 1960s and the film showcases how these women significantly contributed to NASA’s space program.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

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

Hidden Figures Day 25
Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) meet John Glenn (Glen Powell), the man they are going to help send into the Earth’s orbit.

In Hidden Figures, LGBTI characters are never identified. The film thus fails to pass the Russo test since it doesn’t even pass the most basic part of the test’s requirements (i.e., having a single character who is identifiably LGBTI). Hidden Figures does, however, pass other diversity tests like the Bechdel and race tests.

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The Black computer section of NASA watches as John Glenn enters the Earth’s orbit.

Hidden Figures passes the Bechdel test because a large portion of the cast is comprised of women; because there are many instances where women talk to each other; and because out of the times that women talk to each other, there are a few occasions where men are not mentioned and the women who are speaking to each other both have names.

As to how and why Hidden Figures passes the race test, just like there are many women in the film, there are also many Black individuals, and Hidden Figures passes the race test because there are a few instances where some of the Black actors in the film speak to each other without mentioning anyone who is White.

*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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