The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049, released 35 years after the first Blade Runner, continues the narration of its predecessor.

In the newest installment, a replicant blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling) discovers the remains of a replicant that had been pregnant and had an emergency C-section. K is ordered to investigate into the identity behind the remains and find and eliminate her child. As he does so, K discovers that the replicant’s name had been Rachel and that she had an affair with Rick Deckard. K eventually tracks down both Deckard and the child, and through this process he makes discoveries concerning himself and finds that he is no longer the person he once was.

The Bechdel, Russo and Race Test

Blade Runner 2049 is much better than its predecessor in many ways. The sequel, for example, has solid acting, emotion and a storyline; the cinematography is beautiful; the world and storyline that the original film created has been successfully expanded; and the film is well-paced (the original film, in comparison, was lacking in all of these categories in one way or another). With that said, there are aspects of the film that are glaringly problematic. Namely, the portrayal and inclusion of women, the LGBTQIA community and non-White individuals in Blade Runner 2049 is poor to non-existent and the fact that the film fails to pass the Bechdel, Russo and race test.

The A.I. Joi who plays K’s love interest.

In the case of how women are represented in Blade Runner 2049, there are several women in the film who play various parts. One, for example, plays the part of a love interest (Joi as played by Ana de Armas); another is a sex object (Mariette as played by Mackenzie Davis); one is a creator/damsel-in-distress (Dr. Ana Stelline as played by Carla Juri); yet another is an assassin/minion (Luv as played by Sylvia Hoeks); and there are some that are leaders (Lieutenant Joshi as played by Robin Wright and Freysa as played by Hiam Abbass). Most (if not all) of these female characters feel a bit lacking and empty and this isn’t very surprising considering that many of the women wind up (for no real good or logical reason) romantically or sexually interested or involved with K (Joi, for example, is programed to cater to K’s every need; Mariette has sex with him; Lieutenant Joshi hits on him; and Luv kisses him). That being said, does Blade Runner 2049 pass the Bechdel test? Well, the women of Blade Runner 2049 converse with one another on two occasions (and that’s not to mention that Luv and Dr. Stelline are the only women who are directly named in the entire film) – when Freysa, the leader of the replicant resistance movement, contacts women sex workers/resistance fighters like Mariette and tells them to approach K; and when Luv confronts Lieutenant Joshi and questions her as to K’s whereabouts. Because the women who speak to each other mention men (and only one of the women, Luv, is actually named in the film), none of their conversations pass the Bechdel test. When it comes to the depiction and inclusion of women, Blade Runner 2049 thus obviously doesn’t do so well and the film fares even worse when it comes to the inclusion of LGBTQIA individuals.

K meets Luv while investigating Rachel and she gives a tour of a company the produces replicants.

There are absolutely zero LGBTQIA characters in Blade Runner 2049 (nor are LGBTQIA individuals ever even mentioned). It is hence no wonder how the film fails to pass the Russo test.  How can a film, after all, ever hope to pass the Russo test if it doesn’t even include LGBTQIA characters?

A group of sex workers approach K while he’s off the job.

As to what capacity people of color play in Blade Runner 2049, non-White individuals are almost nonexistent in the film. In fact, non-White extras rarely make an appearance and only a few people of color (e.g., de Armas, a Black sex worker, Barkhad Abdi and Edward James Olmos) ever speak. Of the non-White individuals that do appear and speak in Blade Runner 2049, de Armas has the most screen time and speaking lines. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean much as de Armas is regulated to playing a submissive dream girlfriend who will cater to one’s every need and desire and her character is ultimately killed off as a means to motivate the White male protagonist, K, and to further his storyline. It should thus come as no surprise that de Armas’ character never speaks to another non-White individual (nor is there ever an instance in the film where any other non-White individuals speak to each other), and Blade Runner 2049 does not pass the race 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, 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.