“While Fast Color adopts some comic book conventions, they’re wrapped in feminist allegory.”
Title: Fast Color (2019)
Director: Julia Hart 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Julia Hart 👩🏼🇺🇸 and Jordan Horowitz 👨🏼🇺🇸
Review by Robert Daniels 👨🏾🇺🇸
Not all superheroes wear capes, or even ill-fitting spandex. However, all heroes do find themselves thrust between apocalyptic or utopian futures, their worlds teetering on the brink of collapse. Luckily, movie characters get to enjoy the comfort of divine intervention.
Julia Hart’s Fast Color doesn’t deviate from this trend. In this universe, Earth suffers from severe drought where half-filled jugs of water cost upwards of $12. With quaint sets (located in the desolate American southwest) and an even simpler screenplay, Fast Color relies on pacing, acting, and editing rather than high production values to attract its audiences.
Opening in a blur, a harried young Black woman wearing a black trench coat, wrists bound with rope, escapes a warehouse and into dilapidated urban landscape. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is that young woman: Ruth—who will drive off to a motel, then to a bar, then to her mother’s home. The identities of Ruth's pursuers are unclear, as they remain so for much of the film.
What is apparent, as ‘80s-inspired synth dominates the film, is the uncommon power Ruth holds. Whenever she experiences one of her uncontrollable seizures she creates an earthquake. Hunted by government men, she retreats home to reunite with her daughter and mother in the hopes of controlling her powers and, eventually, a return to normalcy.
While relatively basic in structure, albeit with plenty of action, Hart’s origin story for Ruth finds its most compelling angle through commentary on gender and race.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
While Fast Color adopts comic book conventions, reminiscent of X-Men in certain ways, those conventions are wrapped in feminist allegory. We follow three female leads: Ruth, her young daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), and her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint). Since each holds the power to manipulate matter, they must hide from a patriarchal government that would rather experiment on their bodies, if not annihilate them completely.
For these reasons, this long line of gifted women (who possess abilities stretching back further than the three generations we meet) live in the middle of nowhere. While hardly glamorous, their simple life remains tranquil—that is, until Ruth reappears.
However, Ruth is unlike Bo and Lila. She’s never seen the “colors.” Whenever these women manipulate matter, unbeknownst to others they can see neon colors surrounding what they’ve controlled. Having never harnessed her powers to this degree, Ruth turned to drugs, rebelled against Bo, and then ran away to the outside world. She denied Bo’s matriarchal upbringing and sought the patriarchal world, where she was nearly consumed.
The dangers of the male-dominated world are so severe that when one of the men hunting Ruth comes to their small, dusty town, Bo must decide if she should risk Lila’s safety and their relative peace to save Ruth from the gang of male combatants. Bo’s impending decision mirrors the not uncommon dilemma faced by women and other groups—to choose between the safe route of protecting your own, or risking everything to do what’s right.
Fast Color finds its unique voice through the layering of social commentary over an origin story, propelled by equal coverage of three Black women leads (Bo, Ruth, and Lila). Often Black characters are color-coded by screenwriters, directors, and casting directors based on skin tone. Dark skin connotes evil or less attractive antagonists, while the heroics are left to the light-skinned Black protagonists. Both Ruth and Lila are mixed race, as their father was a white Sheriff (David Strathairn), resulting in Ruth with lighter complexion while Lila and Bo have darker skin tones. The variety is welcome, and most importantly, Lila and Bo avoid the aforementioned stereotypes against darker-skinned characters.
All three find their moments to shine despite the ongoing pressure to hide their power—an allegory that works both for women, as well as for the Black experience in America. What’s more Black than being marginalized to the edges of nowhere, bereft of resources, and afraid that white authoritarians will wipe you out of existence at the first sign of strength?
This makes it all the more satisfying to watch the three surge against their foes in the film's final scene, as they both literally and metaphorically shut the door on the men hunting them. These women will not be silenced or deterred, and the optimistic ending provides an invigorating example of the unexplored textures yet to be explored in diverse films.
Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.33/5
The rapid rise of social commentary infiltrating cinema provides sharp blows to the idea that heroes must always be white and brings along much-needed reinvention of familiar tropes and stories. Wider-reaching examples include Black Panther (2018) and Captain Marvel (2019), but Hart’s tidier Fast Color actually feels more daring of the three. And while said daringness doesn’t extend nearly enough to the plot, these building blocks provide future filmmakers with a template from which they can add yet more complexities and angles.