The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Dope

Dope is a coming-of-age story of a young Black man, Malcolm, (Shameik Moore) who loves 90’s hip-hop and who is about to graduate high school.

Malcolm is a bit of a social outcast at his school – he has no gang affiliation, he always plays it straight and he is a geek. Because of these factors, Malcolm is often a target for ridicule but this all changes when, one day, Malcolm attends a drug dealer’s birthday party with a couple of his (Malcolm’s) friends.

At the party, events quickly take a turn for the worst when violence erupts, and in a strange twist of events, Malcolm winds up with a backpack full of ecstasy and a bunch of pissed-off, violent strangers on his tail. It is from this point forward that Malcolm and his friends go on a wild adventure and make some new discoveries about themselves as they try to survive the very last days of high school.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Dope passes the Russo and race test but not the Bechdel test.

One of Malcolm’s friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), is a lesbian and because she in the film; she is not solely defined by her sexual orientation (e.g., she’s also a high school senior, she’s in a punk band, she’s a dedicated friend and she loves 90’s hip-hop); and she is important to the plot of the film (e.g., she is part of Malcolm’s [the protagonist’s] storyline and helps him pull one over the drug lord), Dope passes the Russo test. Dope also (easily) passes the race test, and the film passes this test because almost every character is non-White and in almost every conversation that occurs between non-White characters, White people are not mentioned.

While Dope easily passes the Russo and race test, the film does not pass the Bechdel test. Why does the film not pass this test? Because of one very simple reason – women never speak to each other.

There are four women in Dope who have speaking parts – Malcolm’s mom, Diggy, Lily (Chanel Iman) and Nakia (Zoë Kravitz). Of these four women, three have names, and while Diggy, Lily and Nakia all play variously important parts and are in some of the same scenes together, they never actually speak to each other which, frankly, is pretty amazing. Because, really, how do women who play an important part in a film and who share some of the same scenes together never talk to each other? This, I’m afraid, is a question for the ages which has no answer. All that can really be said is that because these named women never speak to each other (and thus never have an opportunity to talk to each other without mentioning men), Dope fails to pass all of the Bechdel test’s requirements and thus does not pass the Bechdel 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.