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Fast Color Isn’t Like Other Superhero Movies

November 25, 2019 | By Brigitte Gong

When talking about the superhero movie genre, most people would likely describe the type of movies made by Marvel Studios: fun, action-packed, and for the most part, light-hearted. Sure, the protagonists may face hardships, but they’re nothing that can’t be completely solved in two hours. Though this is undoubtedly a successful formula, it can often leave moviegoers wishing for more — it certainly leaves me wishing for more, at least. And that is what makes Fast Color such a breath of fresh air.

Photo Courtesy of Codeblack Films

One of two films that opened the second annual Boston Women’s Film Festival, Fast Color was shown at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in collaboration with the Roxbury International Film Festival. Co-written and directed by Julia Hart, Fast Color follows Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a black woman with superpowers who is on the run from the government as she returns to her childhood home. The settings of the film are as sparse as the rainfall in the dystopian future it creates, where water is the most expensive commodity, and a seemingly friendly stranger at a diner turns out to be the enemy. As the film progresses, more details of Ruth’s troubled past are revealed until we see her for who she is — someone who is simply trying to find a way to exist without being captured by the scientists who want to experiment on her.

 

Unlike most superhero movies, Ruth’s powers are not portrayed as a positive asset or one that can aid her in her survival — there is no vigilantism, no conviction in doing “the right thing,” no vengeance, even. In fact, Ruth and her mother, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), who also possesses special powers, are not convinced they are “meant” to do anything except separate the women in their family from the rest of society. For Ruth, her powers are more of a curse than a blessing, as they induce violent seizures that cause earthquakes. She is not a hero, but she isn’t a villain either. She simply has no control over who she is, what she was born with, or how society treats her as a result of those things. It serves as an effective metaphor for how black women are treated in society, and the film does little to pretend that it’s about anything more than Ruth finding her identity and place in the world.

 

Some critics have said that the film doesn’t quite explore its many other themes (intergenerational trauma, climate change, addiction) as deeply as it does its protagonist’s inner psyche, but I see no reason why it has to. The movie is by no means perfect, but, ultimately, it works. The film utilizes Ruth’s powers to help us visualize the trauma black women experience and the strength they have to harness it into something beautiful and useful. Its disinterest in making a bold political statement allows it to deconstruct every convention in the superhero movie formula: there is no call to action, no higher purpose, no moral superiority. It is, simply, a bridge to empathy, demonstrated most clearly during the climax, when we finally see Ruth come into control of her powers in an incredible moment of catharsis. We share her relief, joy, and overwhelming contentment in finally understanding who she is, and that’s enough.

 

Despite the movie being effective and well-produced in its own right, it still struggled to find distribution. According to IndieWire, the film was acquired in September 2018 by “Codeblack Films, the African American-focused arm of Lionsgate Entertainment… but in January, Lionsgate ended its Codeblack partnership,” which drastically cut the film’s marketing budget. Despite the thematic questions the movie raises, its failure to be widely distributed raises other questions about the state of the film industry and how production studios decide what audiences can see. For whatever reasons they may give for Fast Color not “selling well,” it is clear that film festivals remain relevant in highlighting films the industry may overlook.