The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Mad Max: Fury Road

In the newest installment of the Mad Max series, a woman named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is fleeing from Immortan Joe’s (the warlord of a Citadel’s) minions as she has just freed his sex slaves and she is trying to getting them (the freed women) to a safe place. Her escape, of course, is hindered by the fact that Joe’s minions are on her tail and trying to retrieve the women. Matters are only made worse for Furiosa when she runs into some random dude named Max (Tom Hardy).

Max was wandering the desert on his own when he was captured by some of Joe’s minions and taken on their chase of Furiosa as a mobile human blood bag. At a certain point, when Max and his captor run into Furiosa, Max sees an opportunity to escape

Mad Max: Fury Road, as a film, is good, the cinematography is fantastic, the action is enjoyable and eye-popping, and the film’s plot has misogynists’ panties in a bunch (always a plus), but there is one noticeable flaw in Fury Road – its lack of dialogue and character development.

There is so much action in Fury Road that the characters barely have a chance to speak and the audience hardly gets to know any of the characters (especially Furiosa), and because of this, the few times that the characters do speak, it is hard to empathize with and understand the different characters’ perspectives. For example, when Furiosa reunites with her clanswomen and learns that “the green place” (the destination that Furiosa was heading towards) no longer exists, she is overwhelmed and devastated, but it is hard to really care about her predicament as, up to this point, the audience doesn’t really know much about Furiosa so the scene comes across as very forced and awkward. That being said, the film is mostly good and there are some bright spots, the most notable of which is that women play a prominent part in the film and that the women aren’t objects.

Women in action films are generally non-existent, and if they do make an appearance they usually only exist as a means to drive men’s storylines or they are objects that solely exist for the male gaze (i.e., they only serve as sex objects), but in Fury Road this trope is completely destroyed as it is the women who drive and carry Fury Road.

The very plot of Fury Road revolves around women’s refusal to be victims (e.g., the sex slaves flee and fight back against their captor and other women join the sex slaves’ cause) and the fact that women aren’t things to be owned. In fact, within the very first few minutes of the film the phrase “We are not things” (in regards to women) is heavily emphasized, and Fury Road delivers on this statement. For example, the women in the film aren’t side characters to look at, victimize and/or objectify. Instead, they are individuals with a sense of autonomy who fight back (both literally and figuratively) and fight just as hard as any man (if not better). These factors are very rare within action films (which is why critics are freaking out over it), and the fact that these factors do appear in Fury Road is what makes this film so enjoyable.

So, in short, if you want to see a film that has fantastic action and that doesn’t pretend like half of the world’s population doesn’t exist (or is a joke), then this is the film for you. However, if you’re a misogynist, well, then you’re out of luck as this film will probably have you foaming at the mouth and your eyes turning into pinwheels with all of its “feminist propaganda.” And you will, no doubt, experience (un)righteous indignation, as well, over the fact that women are at the forefront of an action film. Because really, what could be worse than a woman headlining an action film? A woman who is independent? A woman who fights back against the patriarchy? A whole band of independent women who destroy the patriarchy and head an action film? Oh, how horrifying. A film that isn’t just about men where women actually have opinions. What is the world coming to?

 The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Mad Max: Fury Road passes the Bechdel test but does not pass the Russo or race test.

Fury Road has several prominent women in the film, but very few are ever named. However, there are maybe one or two brief exchanges that do occur between Furiosa and some of the named sex slaves where men are not mentioned so the film does pass the Bechdel test.

As to the other two diversity tests, Fury Road does not pass the Russo test because there are no LGBTI characters in the film, and while there are some non-White characters in Fury Road, none of the non-White characters actually talk to each other (let alone speak to each other without mentioning White people) so Fury Road does not pass the race test.

*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.