The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Empire, “Without a Country” – Season 2, Episode 2

EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Guest star Ludacris (Chris Bridges) as Officer McKnight and Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon in the ÒWithout A CountryÓ episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Sept. 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Chuck Hodes/FOX.

On Empire, “Without a Country,” Lucious was denied healthcare while in jail so he recruited a new, super shady lawyer to help him out and Cookie, Hakeem, Andre and Anika formed a new music company.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

“Without a Country” passed the Bechdel, Russo and race test.

Named women talked to each other a couple of times in “Without a Country,” and they almost always mentioned men. However, because there were two instances where named women talked to each other without mentioning men (e.g., Anika and Veronica talked about Veronica’s music and Cookie asked Anika what she was doing in her [Cookie’s] studio), the episode passed the Bechdel test. The episode also passed the Russo test, and the episode passed this test because Jamal, who is LGBTI, was in the episode; because Jamal was not solely defined by his sexual orientation (e.g., he was also a brother, a businessman and a singer); and because Jamal’s removal from “Without a Country” would have significantly affected the plot as he was a main cast member and part of the plot revolved around how Jamal was trying to steal Hakeem away from Cookie who was trying to make her own record label with the help of Hakeem.*****

In regards to the race test, there were many non-White actors in “Without a Country” and there were several times where some of these non-White actors talked to each other without mentioning White people so “Without a Country” also passed 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 show 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 show 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 television. 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 show.

*****There was one other LGBTI character, Michael, in “Without a Country,” but he did not pass the Russo test because he played such an unimportant role that his removal from the episode wouldn’t have affected the plot at all (literally, the only thing he did was stand, smile and say a line in a single scene).