The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Empire, “A High Hope for a Low Heaven” – Season 2, Episode 6

On Empire, “A High Hope for a Low Heaven,” Hakeem’s captors demanded a ransom from Cookie and Lucious. The two complied with the captors’ request and Hakeem was returned to them, but he wasn’t quite right. More specifically, Hakeem was acting more erratic than usual and he appeared to be experiencing flashbacks, leaving the whole Lion family to wonder whether or not Hakeem would be able to pull it together and perform for a show.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

“A High Hope for a Low Heaven” passed the Russo and race test but did not pass the Bechdel test.

Hakeem seeks revenge against his former captors.

There were two LGBTI characters, Jamal and Jameson, in “A High Hope for a Low Heaven.” Jamal (and thus the episode) most definitely passed the Russo test as Jamal is LGBTI and he was in the episode; he was not solely defined by his sexual orientation (e.g., he was also defined as being a singer and a brother); and his removal from the episode would have significantly affected the plot as he was one of the main characters in “A High Hope for a Low Heaven” and he had his own storyline. Jameson, on the other hand, is a bit of iffy case when it comes to whether or not he passed the Russo test as while he was not solely defined by his sexual orientation (e.g., he was also defined as being a musician and a business man), it’s not completely clear whether or not his removal from “A High Hope for a Low Heaven” would have resulted in a significant change in the plot as he didn’t play too much of a part in “A High Hope for a Low Heaven” yet he does seem like a character that’s going to be important in the future.

As to the race test, “A High Hope for a Low Heaven” passed this test, and the episode passed this test because a large portion of the episode’s cast was non-White so there were several moments where non-White individuals talked to each other without mentioning White people. And when it comes to the Bechdel test, “A High Hope for a Low Heaven” did not pass this test, and the episode did not pass this test because the few times that named women talked to each other, men were always mentioned.

*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.

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