There are a lot of things Fast Color isn’t. It isn’t particularly exciting, or hopeful, and surprisingly it isn’t all that colorful. But let’s talk about what the movie is, and that’s an unconventional “superhero” movie that deserves attention for its focus on three super-powered women of color. There’s Black Girl Magic sprinkled all over the place in this movie, and while it’s hard to call it a success Fast Color earns props for representation.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw has been a star on the rise ever since her breakout role in Belle, but this marks the rare leading opportunity she’s had since then. She plays Ruth, who when we first meet her is haggard, exhausted, and looking to hide out in a rundown motel. We know something is bad when she has to pay $26, an apparent fortune to her, just to buy a half gallon of water. In this off-putting glimpse at a possible future, climate change has caused such devastation that it hasn’t rained in years. Before long, Ruth starts to get the shakes…and while we might think it’s from dehydration it’s actually her super-power at work. She causes earthquakes when under stress. Ruth has learned to cope with it, but is losing control. The outburst attracts a federal agent (Christopher Denham) on her trail, leading to a burst of action that Fast Color rarely allows for.
Looked at charitably, Fast Color is an allegory for black women forced to hide their power from a world that shuns them. Ruth is on a journey home, where her mother (Lorraine Toussant) keeps her power to manipulate matter a secret from a paranoid world. It’s also where she raises Ruth’s gifted daughter (Saniyya Sidney), who never even knew her mother was alive. Painful secrets, regrets, and a dark destiny make for intriguing mythology from which to build, but sophomore director Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) paints an inert, lifeless picture that fails to live up to the poetic, lyrical atmosphere she’s hoping to depict. The complicated family dynamic never quite comes together with the power that it should, owing to a lack of depth in the screenplay by Hart and husband Jordan Horowitz.
Debuting on the festival circuit shortly after Black Panther‘s release, Fast Color also uses the veil of super-abilities to tackle issues of race and gender. They take vastly different approaches in presenting an alternative view of the superhero story. Neither is wrong, but one is better at tackling its core themes in a way that is exciting and rich in character. The other, unfortunately, is Fast Color.