“Fast Color” is a welcomed far cry from the status quo.
This review contains minor spoilers for “Fast Color” and a brief interview with Saniyya Sidney
“Fast Color” played on only 25 screens in April and didn’t stay in theaters very long. That’s a damn shame, and it’s incredibly frustrating, because “Fast Color” is wonderful. It sets itself apart from the sci-fi and superhuman dramas we are accustomed to, in large part because it centers a multi-generational family of Black women and what their supernatural powers mean for them. Writer and director Julia Hart (“The Keeping Room,” “Miss Stevens”) believes this factored significantly into the film’s limited release and lack of marketing for the project, particularly because of narcissistic gatekeeping.
“There is so much lip service in this industry about wanting women to tell stories, wanting people of color to tell stories, wanting to tell stories about women and people of color,” Hart remarked to the audience during a Q&A after a screening in April. “There were women and people of color at every company that loved the movie… At the end of the day, when it got to the white male gatekeeper—time and time again—they said, ‘I don’t know who this movie is for. I don’t know how to market it,’” she continued. “We have a lot of incredible storytellers right now who are telling these stories—women and people of color—the problem is the gatekeepers all look alike and we need to change that.”
Co-written with her husband, producer Jordan Horowitz (“The Kids Are All Right,” “La La Land”), Hart’s “Fast Color” is ambitious and refreshing. With it, we are taken on a journey that feels both epic and understated. It’s a resonant and intimate tale that explores themes of abandonment, isolation, vulnerability, community, and sacrifice, beginning and ending at the edge of nowhere.
With the world on the precipice of environmental ruin in the near future, three generations of superpowered Black women must attend to the strained relationships between them when Ruth (Gugu MBatha-Raw) returns home to Lila (Saniyya Sidney) and Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) after ten years of running in the exact opposite direction. Water is a scarcity and Earth is dying—imagery sometimes parallels the Flint water crisis and the realities of climate change—but that is merely the melancholy backdrop for the charming story that unfolds.
Between the three of them, Ruth, Lila, and Bo have powers that can create, destroy, and restore. Together, the trio possesses the ability to shape and manipulate matter and even “affect the energy of the earth,” but Ruth’s power is violent and undisciplined, which is why she’s been on the run for so long. She has seizures that cause earthquakes and, as long as she is unable to control them, she will put the people around her in danger and keep a target on her back.
A mysterious government entity is hot on her heels, following the trail of destruction she leaves behind with each seizure-induced quake. They don’t understand her power or even know its true magnitude—nobody does—but they still want to possess it. If captured, Ruth would likely become the test subject of curious scientists, forced to endure various procedures and experiments, no doubt with the intention of somehow harnessing whatever is within her to use for their own gain. It echoes Black people’s fraught history with scientific curiosity about our bodies and abilities, and our being subjected to unethical and inhumane medical research, experimentation, and dissection for centuries in order to serve white interests. She is right to run from them.
Ruth has also been running from trauma, and I must admit that I expected the film to focus on it more than it does. I’m so used to Black characters dwelling on and living in their trauma, and I’m used to that trauma becoming a spectacle, often grotesque and re-traumatizing in itself. There are times when I think to myself, If ancestral trauma can live in our DNA, then so can ancestral resilience and passion, ancestral promise and power. Rather than the generational trauma I’ve come to expect in dramas about Black families, “Fast Color” contemplates our generational gifts and wisdom. It’s the reverie on generational power I’ve been missing.
Though Ruth is the central character and focal point of the story, I believe Lila is the key to really understanding it. When I spoke with Saniyya Sidney about her role in the film recently, the young actress described Lila to me as “a fixer” and “very smart.” Lila is indeed brilliant and resourceful, and “fixer” is an apt description of her. Full of questions and curious about how things work, she spends her time tinkering with whatever is broken. Bo says that Ruth is broken. Maybe Lila can fix her, too.
“Mothers and grandmothers are so important because they help you and they teach you things,” Sidney explained. “But Lila is able to teach them things as well.”
About the relationship dynamics between the three, she told me, “Lila loves her grandmother a lot. She’s been raising her all this time since her mom has been gone, and when Ruth comes back she has to build a relationship with her.” Lila is Bo’s primary concern, after having cared for her in Ruth’s absence—an absence meant to protect the girl from her perceived brokenness.
Bo is a firm, loving matriarch, but she is also stubborn and has a well of secrets, some kept longer and more deeply submerged than others. In some ways, these secrets keep all three from accessing the true height of their powers, but it also protects them. Bo understands how dangerous the world is and she understands what might become of them if their abilities were found out. On some level, “Fast Color” implores us to consider what can happen when Black women are able to truly unleash our power.
As a Black woman who loves media, I face a constant internal struggle and ethical quandary, making continuous compromises and reconciliations, both big and small, just to even be able to consume or engage with most things. My love of media means always knowing that the things I love often don’t love me back. But I feel loved by “Fast Color.” A film like this with three fully-formed and thoughtfully-rendered Black women is sublime. In it, I can see myself, and many of the people I love, present and humanized in the kind of narrative that so often excludes or minimizes us.
Black women are always expected to save the world when the world doesn’t seem to care much about us. Misogynoir means that we are conceived of as being superhuman in a way that is detrimental to us rather than empowering, thought of as being unbreakable, indestructible in our ability—to some, our purpose—to endure pain and hardship, while perpetually swooping in to save everyone else. “Fast Color” flips that sentiment on its head and instead allows Black women to use their power to work towards saving themselves and each other.
It made me think of Black mothers giving up parts of themselves to birth us and keep us safe. Black mothers fighting the state, and braving untold dangers, and climbing proverbial mountains. In our families and communities, Black women carry burdens, and keep painful secrets, and hold back armies to spare and protect others. We also keep histories and harvest memories, because we have to combat the revisionist, unreliable narrators who will canonically strip us of our power and attribute our work to someone else, without hesitation or remorse, in their version of history. This film may focus on the mind-bending powers of just three Black women, but it made me also think of our collective power.
You will see other reviews critique how this story is told, but know that “Fast Color” is not concerned with the things that are familiar to us in this genre, and that’s part of what makes it special. Nor is it invested in telling its story in a way that checks arbitrarily prescribed boxes or adheres to certain established “rules” of storytelling. I appreciate that we are trusted to navigate parts of it ourselves, without gratuitous exposition or narrative hand-holding. We are a culture inundated with sci-fi and superheroes, and as much I often enjoy those adventures, “Fast Color” is a welcomed far cry from the status quo.
“In a lot of superhero stories, the people have costumes and weapons and armor and stuff, but our characters aren’t like that, and I like that they aren’t,” Saniyya Sidney told me. “I hope this film will inspire people, other filmmakers, so that they know that these kinds of stories can be told and that superhero stories can look different from what we’re used to… I love that this story is being told with a Black family, and I think it’s so important, especially now, for people to see it.”
I asked her what she was most excited for audiences to see. “The colors!” she exclaimed. “We see the colors when we use our powers. I’m really excited for people to see these really bright and vibrant colors moving really fast overhead. They’re difficult to describe but so beautiful.”
I encourage you to watch the film and see the colors. I think you’ll be glad you did.
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