The Bechdel, Russo and Race Test: Lion

Lion, a film based on a true story, tells the tale of an Indian man (Saroo as played by Dev Patel) who is separated from his birth family as a young child and his efforts to reunite with them, despite all odds, years later as an adult.

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

Lion passes the race test but it does not pass the Bechdel or Russo test.

Sunny Pawar stars in LIONPhoto: Mark Rogers
Once separated from his family, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lands in an Indian orphanage.

The cast of Lion is primarily composed of White and Indian actors, and throughout the film, Indian actors interact with both White and Indian individuals. Out of the times that Indian individuals speak to each other in Lion, there are many instances where White individuals are never mentioned so the film easily meets the race test’s requirements and Lion thus passes this particular diversity test. The film does not, however, pass other diversity tests like the Bechdel and Russo.

An adult Saroo obsesses over the family he has lost and often envisions his biological mother as he last remembers her.

There a few women in Lion, some of whom have names, and while there are a couple of occasions where named women speak, the film fails to pass the Bechdel test because there is never an instance where named women only speak to one another without mentioning men.

In regards to why Lion does not pass the Russo test, none of the characters are ever identified as being LGBTI so it is thus impossible for the film to pass the Russo.

*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.