The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Baby Driver

Baby Driver (a car chase movie that is not The Fast and the Furious) has been released, and while some of the characters (namely Deborah and Buddy) are 2-dimensional and lack complexity, the film is an easy watch that is entertaining.

Baby drives a client away from the scene of the crime.

A young man that goes by “Baby (Ansel Elgort)” works as a getaway driver in Baby Driver. It is quickly made clear that driving for criminals is not Baby’s profession by choice, and once he falls in love with a woman named Deborah (Lily James), Baby makes a move to breakaway away from his dangerous job. This, however, proves to be no easy task and Baby is forced to place everything on the line, including the woman he loves and his foster father, in order to cut his ties to the criminal underworld.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Baby Driver passed the race test but it did not pass the Bechdel or Russo test.

Ansel Elgort;Jon Hamm;Eiza Gonzalez;Jamie Foxx
From left: Baby, Bats, Darling and Buddy.

In Baby Driver, there are a couple of characters who are played by non-White actors – for example, Jaime Foxx plays Bats, Eiza González plays Darling and Lanny Joon plays J.D.  So do Foxx, González and Joon, or any of the other non-White individuals in the film, ever speak to each other? Yes, but rarely.

Darling fires at approaching police officers.

Non-White individuals speak to each other on two (or maybe more) occasions in Baby Driver. One instance occurs when Bats mocks Darling’s husband Buddy (Jon Hamm) at a diner and Darling counterattacks Bats; and the second occasion takes place when J.D. informs Bats, in middle of a car chase, that he has left behind his gun and Bats, consequently, berates J.D. In the case of the exchange between Bats and Darling, their conversation does not pass the race test as a White man (Buddy) is at the center of their discussion but the brief exchange between J.D. and Bats does pass the race as J.D. and Bats never mention anyone White. Baby Driver, the film, thus passes the race test.

As to how women are represented and portrayed in Baby Driver, there are two main women in the film – Darling and Deborah – and these women are depicted through the lens of the Whore/Madonna complex. Darling, for example, is depicted as the “sexpot/whore” with slippery morals while Deborah is portrayed as an impossibly “pure,” girl-like woman. Neither of these portrayals, to say the least, are flattering (especially considering the racist, sexist, and just overall, patriarchal implications of their depictions), and because Darling and Deborah are the only two named women in Baby Driver and they never speak to each other, Baby Driver does not pass the Bechdel test.

Baby steals a car in an attempt to flee cops.

In regard to how Baby Driver fares when it comes to the Russo test, the film also fails to pass this diversity test and Baby Driver does not pass the Russo because none of the characters are ever identified as being LGBTQIA.

*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, queer, asexual 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 LGBTQIA 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 LGBTQIA individual and it does not dictate the quality of the film.