Taking inspiration from the “Bechdel Test,” which examines the way female characters are portrayed and situated within a narrative, GLAAD developed its own set of criteria to analyze how LGBTQ characters are included within a film. The Vito Russo Test takes its name from celebrated film historian and GLAAD co-founder Vito Russo, whose book The Celluloid Closet remains a foundational analysis of LGBTQ portrayals in Hollywood film. These criteria can help guide filmmakers to create more multidimensional characters while also providing a barometer for representation on a wide scale. This test represents a minimum standard GLAAD expects a greater number of mainstream Hollywood films to reach in the future.
To pass the Vito Russo Test, the following must be true:
- The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
- That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another).
- The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character must matter.
Only nine of the 23 (39%) LGBTQ-inclusive major studio films passed the Vito Russo Test this year. This is a slight increase from the previous report in which eight of 22 (36%) inclusive films released in 2015 passed; the lowest percentage in the study’s history. This is compared to 11 of 20 (55%) inclusive films released in 2014, seven of 17 (41%) in 2013, and six out of 14 (43%) inclusive films released in 2012. There is clearly much room for industry improvement. More films need to include substantial LGBTQ characters that pass this simple test. However, as several of the films tracked prove, passing this test in no way guarantees that a film is not problematic or offensive in its portrayal of LGBTQ people.