“I have a gift. It was passed down to me by my mother, and her mother before her. We’ve stayed hidden because anytime we came into the light, someone tried to take us, to hurt us. But that time is over now. You’re scared because the world is dying and you don’t know how to stop it. A new world is coming.”
Those words are spoken by Bo – the mother of the main character – in the indie “Fast Color” (2018) – about a young black woman and her super powers she’s long tried to suppress. A year after its release, the issues that are explored in this modest in budget yet mighty ambitious in the ideas department film – have only grown in importance and urgency – just like Ruth – our enigmatic and compelling heroine. Like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” which dealt with nuclear warfare, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” explores our fear of communism – among many other examples, science fiction movies have surreptitiously tackled difficult issues affecting our society. The messages tucked inside “Fast Color” are timely – race, the environment and female empowerment. The fact that it is directed by a woman – Julia Hart – is another reason to urge you to discover this gem – for her voice and vision are indispensable at these perplexing times. Her approach is to ground this superhero journey in character and in subtlety.
Sometime in the near future where it hasn’t rained in eight years – and the world is suffering, Ruth finds herself running away from law enforcement and scientists who want to study and control her powers. She has seizures that can create tremors. Nowhere to run, she gravitates to her childhood home in the midwest – where her own mom is raising Lila, the child she left behind. We discover that their special powers have been passed down from generations of women – and that they have been hiding from the world their uniqueness and strength. Ruth had run away for her powers became destructive – and she fell into addiction because it helped control the tremors. She is now determined with the help of her family to face things directly.
Nina Simone singing “There’s a New World Comin’” evocatively plays as we witness for the first time Bo showing what she can do. She and Lila can telekinetically disintegrate objects and reassemble them back again. But there’s one central rule, “if something’s broken, it stays broken.” Ruth’s powers are bigger than her mom’s and daughter’s – she can “tear the sky apart.” There’s one beautifully allegorical aspect to their powers as Lila explains. “After you put back together whatever it is you took apart…suddenly there are all these colors moving over everything.” This fact makes for a very emotional and exhilarating moment in the climax of the film when Ruth experiences – as well as us the audience – the spectrum of colors in the sky.
Julia Hart co-wrote the screenplay with her husband producer Jordan Horowitz (“La La Land”) and her direction and approach is understated and yet very expressive. It is in the quiet moments of this film – three generations of black women sharing a space inside their home – that we find so much beauty and understand what real strength is all about. The art direction is beautiful – and the scenes that take place against the bright blue night sky recall a Van Gogh painting. Actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw is electrifying as Ruth who has pent up so much emotion and intensity inside of her.
“Fast Color” hurls us into a world that is not far from our current condition – and with lessons we could definitely learn from.
Ruth: “We’re not superheroes, we’re just trying to get by.”
Available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime and to rent on iTunes and AMCTheatres on Demand.
Written by Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz.
Directed by Julia Hart
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney, Christopher Denham and David Strathairn
Julia Hart on Bringing “Fast Color” to the Screen
“I have always loved the [superhero] genre, but definitely always felt left out of it,” Hart said. “I think a lot of us have until recently. I like to tell genre stories that are grounded, focused on character, where the genre stuff is kind of a backdrop. But it wasn’t until I became a parent that I really started to understand the version of the story that I would want to tell in this genre.” She added, “I realized I had never seen a movie where a mother was actually a superhero as opposed to metaphorically. So that was definitely the germ of the idea to explore both the literal application of it and the metaphor.” In the original concept for “Fast Color,” Ruth was a white woman, like Hart. However, that changed once she spotted her ideal leading lady. “When my husband Jordan [Horowitz] and I were writing it, we saw “Beyond the Lights” for the first time,” Hart recalled. “It was the first time I’d ever seen Gugu in anything, and I was completely floored.” Imagining the English actress as Ruth, Hart and Horowitz began revising the script before even putting an offer out to Mbatha-Raw. Hart remembered, “Let’s write it for her and just cross our fingers. Thank God she said yes!”
“It really came out of wanting to cast the best person for the part and then fully embracing the reality of that,” Hart said. “In casting a woman of color, it was going to become a story about the power of women of color. I was not just casting a woman in that part, but really reimagining and rethinking and retooling the script, the characters, the world, and the rest of the cast to reflect her background and who she is in as authentic as possible as I could as a white writer.”Hart took to heart the responsibility of “Fast Color”’s representation of black women. “I think what a lot of storytellers do — in particular white ones— is imagine characters that look like themselves,” she said. “Because most of the people who have been given opportunities to tell stories historically are white men, it’s why most of our stories are about white men. People don’t imagine people who don’t look and sound like them.” But Hart embraced the chance to step out of her immediate experience and collaborated with her leading ladies as she developed the film. “So even though I’m white, I was able to take myself out of the center and really center Lorraine and Gugu and Sinayya,” Hart explained. “I listened to them and reshaped the world and the characters and the stories as it felt authentic to them.” “I really think that that’s the future,” Hart said, “Well, first and foremost we need more storytellers of color to tell whatever story they want, and more women to tell whatever story they want. Hopefully, those stories are — and probably would be — representative anyway … I don’t know, I just think we don’t need any more white stories.” “I do think that white filmmakers and storytellers would greatly benefit from — in terms of like their own souls — expanding their vision of the world,” Hart added, “Because the world is so much bigger and so much more colorful than we are.” (syfy.com)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw on Joining the Film
In an interview with “Slash Film,” actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw discusses her process of joining the film. “I ripped through it in under two hours, and I am not a super-fast reader. I called my agent straight afterwards and said that I really wanted to meet Julia Hart because I loved it and it was so interesting. I was so drawn into the world, especially the character of Ruth. The way the film opens, we’re introduced to her as this woman on the run, and there’s so much mystery surrounding her, and she’s kind of wild and desperate and in this fight-or-flight zone. There’s such a primal and feral energy to her, and I was really intrigued to access that as an actor. Then the movie takes on this supernatural energy to it, and its really layered, as you said. There’s so much to say about these three generations of women with these powers. The idea of having this power within you that culture or society has made you afraid of, I loved that idea. And then there’s the idea of being a mother and the power of being a mother and a mother’s love and what it really means to connect with your mother or daughter, and it’s through that that Ruth comes into her own.” (slashfilm.com)
The Music of “Fast Color”
Composer Rob Simonsen discusses creating the music for “Fast Color.” “We talked about trying to do something different and we knew that it was a superhero story, but that it also had a lot of focus on the interpersonal drama between the three generations of women in the film. We just wanted to go for something grand and we knew we wanted to do a hybrid thing, which are my favorite to do – we started out more orchestral and then started leaning more towards synths in the process, which is something I love. It felt like piano was a good fit for the emotional beats and the storyline between mothers and daughters, speaking to the intimacy of the relationships [since] it’s very much about these three women, but then clearly they have the power to change the world and the orchestra seemed like a great choice to expand the canvas.” (moveablefest.com)
About Director and Co-Writer Julia Hart
“Julia Hart is the co-founder (with her husband, producer & writer Jordan Horowitz) of the film and television production company Original Headquarters. Her feature directorial debut MISS STEVENS premiered in competition at SXSW in 2016, where it won a Special Jury Prize for Best Actress for star Lily Rabe and was picked up for distribution by The Orchard. FAST COLOR, her second feature, stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint and David Strathairn, and will premiere at SXSW 2018. Her debut script THE KEEPING ROOM landed on the 2012 Black List and was made into a feature directed by Daniel Barber (HARRY BROWN) and starring Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Sam Worthington. The film premiered at TIFF in 2014 and was subsequently released by Drafthouse Films. (beconferences.com) Her latest film is an adaptation of the award-winning novel STARGIRL for Disney.”