Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 by Angie Han
While imperfect, the Bechdel Test has proven a handy tool for surveying the general shape for women in cinema. It’s been surprising and disappointing to see how few titles pass the three criteria, that a film have 1) more than two female characters, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than a man.
But women aren’t the only underrepresented group in Hollywood, and GLAAD has devised an analogue for LGBT characters called the Russo Test, named after The Celluloid Closet author Vito Russo. The organization applied the test to the 101 films released by major studios in 2012, and have now published their findings in their first-ever Studio Responsibility Index. Hit the jump to read the results.
Here are the three standards for the Russo Test, as explained in GLAAD’s report.
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity. I.E. they are made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another.
3. The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there simply to provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character should matter.
The group looked at 101 titled released by the six major studios in 2012, and found that of them a mere 14 contained LGBT characters. Keep in mind that that figure includes even tiny cameos, like the seconds-long appearance by MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts in The Avengers. Even so, GLAAD reports that Fox failed to feature any LGBT characters at all in their 15 major releases of 2012.
The number of movies that met the Russo criteria are even lower. By GLAAD’s accounting, just six films passed: Warner Bros.’ Cloud Atlas and Rock of Ages, Universal’s Pitch Perfect and The Five-Year Engagement, Sony’s Skyfall, and Paramount’s Fun Size. Even among those, LGBT characters were relegated to small supporting roles in Fun Size and The Five-Year Engagement. Or perhaps I should say LGB, since trans people appeared in exactly zero of the films analyzed.
Interestingly, comedy was the most inclusive category, with LGBT characters appearing in nine out of 24 movies. In contrast, while there were 34 “genre” (i.e., action, sci-fi, and/or fantasy) films last year, just three featured LGBT characters. Apparently, studios can buy into the idea of alien attackers or superpower-granting spider bites, but a gay hero is beyond their imagining. The animated / family group fared even worse, with no LGBT characters among them.
The Russo Test certainly isn’t perfect. As with the Bechdel Test, there’ll be films that seem to fall right on the line, or films that pass or fail on a mere technicality. But it’s a helpful tool for considering how and how often LGBT people are portrayed in movies. While it’s true that LGBT characters are far more common in movies now than they were a decade ago, and though indie films and television have given us quite a few significant ones in recent months, it doesn’t look like 2013 is shaping up to be much better for the major studios.
Click here to read GLAAD’s full report.