The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Creed

The Rocky franchise has returned once again, but this time it has come in the form of a spinoff and it is headed by a person of color.

Creed is about Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordon). Adonis has grown up wealthy and has a cushy office job, but despite living a life that many would envy, Adonis finds himself unsatisfied. What Adonis is truly passionate about is boxing, so tired of living a lie, Adonis quits his office job and he moves to Philadelphia where he tries to convince Rocky to train him.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Creed passes the race test but does not pass the Bechdel or Russo test.

Rocky takes Adonis on as a student and begins his training.

Non-White individuals play a huge part in Creed. The lead character, for example, is played by a non-White actor (Jordan), the lead’s love interest, Bianca, is played by a non-White actress (Tessa Thompson), the lead’s mom is played by a non-White actress (Phylicia Rashad) and numerous other parts are played by non-White actors. It is thus not so surprising that this film passes the race test (which may be a first for a Rocky film), and Creed easily passes this test as there are numerous instances where non-White individuals talk to each other without mentioning White people. However, while Creed has somewhat deviated from its predecessors (i.e., the other Rocky movies) in that there are more people of color than previous, the film is still lacking when it comes to the inclusion of women and LGBTI individuals.

There are only a handful of women in Creed, and like most, if not all, of the Rocky films, the women mostly exist in the background and serve to motivate the male lead and to enhance his storyline. Mary Anne and Bianca (the most prominent women in the film), for example, aren’t actually necessary in Creed (or at least their physical presence is not – e.g., Mary Anne is important because she rescues Adonis from poverty but her role in Adonis’s life can be explained away in a line or two without ever actually giving her screen time and Bianca is part of a side storyline that isn’t absolutely necessary) as Creed is obviously about Adonis and his relationship with boxing and Rocky and not with or about the women in his life. Mary Anne and Bianca simply add onto and make Adonis’s storyline (and thus Creed) more interesting and nuanced and their inclusion is a throwback to previous Rocky characters and story structures (and this is an obvious attempt at nostalgia). Considering these factors, it is not all that surprising that women only talk to each other once in Creed (e.g., Mary Anne talks to a female employee at a juvenile detention center about Adonis) and that the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (the film does not pass this test because the one time that women talk to each other, they talk about a boy and because only one of the women has a name).

As to Creed’s representation of LGBTI characters, like its predecessors, there are no LGBTI characters in the film, and this, of course, means that Creed does not pass the Russo 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.