The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Moonlight

The winner of The Academy’s Best Picture, Moonlight depicts the three different stages of a young gay Black man’s life (Little/Chiron/Black) as he is raised by an abusive addict and faces daily bigotry.

The Bechdel, Russo and Race Test

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

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Chiron’s mother whom is never named during the course of the film.

Moonlight centers around a young gay Black man and very few others ever appear in the film. Out of those whom do, only three are women and because none of the women ever speak to each other and only one has a name (Teresa as played by Janelle Monáe), the film fails to pass the Bechdel test. Moonlight does, however, pass two other diversity tests – the Russo and race tests.

Two characters are identified in Moonight as being LGBTI – Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and André Holland). In the case of Chiron, he is identified early on in the film as being gay, and while Chiron’s sexual orientation does play a big part in Moonlight, it does not completely define him. Chiron, for example, is also defined by his mother, an addict, and because of this and the fact that his removal from the production would significantly affect the plot of Moonlight (since the movie is, after all, about him), Chiron meets all of the criteria of the Russo test and Moonlight thus passes the Russo test.

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Chiron and Kevin share a moment together on the beach.

As to Kevin, his specific sexual orientation is never identified but it is made clear that he falls somewhere in the LGBTI spectrum. He is, furthermore, not solely defined by his sexual orientation as he is also known to be a teen that is unsure of himself; a friend; an adult who has turned his life around; and a cook and the removal of his presence from Moonlight would impact the film’s plot as he plays an important part in Chiron’s early life. Moonlight thus also passes the Russo test based on Kevin’s presence.

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As an adult, Chiron goes by the name Black and works as a drug dealer.

In regards to how and why Moonlight passes the race test, the entire cast is Black; the cast talks to each other on several occasions; and White individuals are rarely to never mentioned by the cast.

*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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