The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Fences

Play turned film, Fences tells the tale of a sanitation worker’s (Denzel Washington) struggles and resentments and how these factors resulting impact his family.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Fences does not pass the Russo test but it does pass the Bechdel and race test.

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Troy (the sanitation worker) fights with his son (Jovan Adepo) over the possibility of him (his son) becoming a professional football player.

In Fences, no characters are ever identified as being LGBTI. The film thus does not pass the Russo test. However, while Fences fails to pass this one diversity test, it does pass others like the Bechdel and race test.

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Troy and his wife Rose have a moment of levity.

Only two women ever appear in Fences – Rose (Viola Davis) and Raynell (Saniyya Sidney). These two women only speak to each other a couple of times (and its right before the very end of the film), and while Rose and Raynell often mention men when they speak to each other, there is at least one occasion where they talk to each other without mentioning men (e.g., Rose tells Raynell to put on her shoes) and this is why Fences passes the Bechdel test.

In regard to why Fences passes the race test, the cast of the film is almost entirely Black and there are numerous instances where Black actors not only talk to each other but do so without mentioning anyone who is White.

*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.

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