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Fast Color director Julia Hart talks representation in superhero movies and beyond
One of our favorite discoveries out of SXSW last year was Fast Color, a superhero movie that was daring, poignant, and powerful. With this fantastic film now coming to theaters, SYFY FANGRRLS was thrilled to sit down with its co-writer/director, Julia Hart, to uncover the origins this sensational superhero story and its politics.
Fast Color stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth, a young mother who struggles with parenthood and her supernatural powers. On the run from those who'd treat her like a science experiment, she seeks solace with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and Lila (Saniyya Sidney), the daughter she'd once left behind. Reunited, this trio of powerful black women attempt to heal. But before long they must face off against those who'd tear them apart.
"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."
Looking to that wider world led to Hart's crafting of Fast Color's climactic speech, where Bo declares to a bunch of frightened white male authority figures, "You're scared because the world is dying and you don't know how to stop it, but I do. A new world is coming. This is only the beginning."
Hart wrote the speech after she decided her heroines would be women of color. Asked if she considers Fast Color to be a political film, she said, "For sure. The world is falling apart, like literally. And there's a lot of darkness right now. And I'm not a politician. I'm not an activist. I'm a filmmaker. So I feel a responsibility to myself, to my children, to other people's children, to at the very least be attempting to create awareness and putting messages out there that are positive and hopeful. I don't have any interest in making hopeless, dark things. There's enough of that in reality."
She referenced the instantly iconic photo of representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib at Michael Cohen's public testimony. The image went viral, with many cheering these women of color in their unamused reaction to this latest political sideshow. "I can't imagine a better real-world practical application than that of what the movie is trying to say," Hart said, "which is that women — and specifically women of color — have this power and this ability that has been subjugated for centuries. That is the only thing that's going to save us."
Fast Color opens April 19.