With the release of GLAAD's first Studio Responsibility Index last week, we asked you to tell us who your all-time favorite LGBT film characters were. The hundreds of replies we received contained a wide and diverse range of answers which demonstrated two very important points: (a) these film characters make a profound and lasting impact on us, and (b) almost none of them come from movies made by the major Hollywood studios.
Here is who you picked as your top ten LGBT film characters.
1. Ennis Del Mar – Brokeback Mountain
2. Luce – Imagine Me and You
3. Graham – But I'm a Cheerleader
4. Aaron Davis – Latter Days
5. Hedwig – Hedwig and the Angry Inch
6. Pauline Oster – Lost and Delirious
7. Corky – Bound
8. Angel – RENT
9. Brandon Teena – Boys Don't Cry
10. Amina Harjan – The World Unseen
That is a great selection of characters and films, and it was a close race all around. Many characters just barely missed the cut, including Jamie from Beautiful Thing, Bernadette from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Celie Johnson from The Color Purple. But nearly every film on the list began its life far outside the Hollywood studio system, which confirms just how important independent LGBT cinema has been in providing our community with stories and characters we could relate to.
But when it comes to being included in the grand cinematic universes created by Hollywood which are loved by millions worldwide, LGBT characters are typically left out of the picture. That's why GLAAD, following the example of the Bechdel Test, developed a set of criteria anyone can use to determine where and how well LGBT characters are included. Here is the Vito Russo Test:
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT).
2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is 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 to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punch line; the character should matter.
Named after celebrated film historian and GLAAD co-founder Vito Russo, this test is something we hope more screenwriters and filmmakers keep in mind going forward. As simple as those criteria are, only six films out of the 101 major Hollywood releases GLAAD tracked in 2012 managed to pass the Russo Test, and in some of those six films these characters were only onscreen for a matter of minutes.
Passing or failing the test doesn't say anything about a film's quality, but it's a simple way any audience member can decide just how much LGBT people matter to a story. Certainly your top ten LGBT film characters helped their own movies pass the Russo Test, but what else have you seen recently that does? Did Mortal Instruments: City of Bones pass the test? How about I'm So Excited? Let us know in the comments below what films this year, Hollywood-made or otherwise, passed the Russo Test!