Filmmaker Julia Hart was inspired to write a film about motherhood and finding your strength in the face of adversity. What she was able to accomplish is her 2018 sci-fi drama Fast Color, a universal story about a woman with extraordinary powers who must protect her daughter while also including a deeper theme of diversity and representation.
Sometime in the near future, society has finally succumbed to environmental wrongs and there has been no rain for 8 years. Water is highly-priced and rationed, and the world is a dusty, arid place. Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a woman with incredible power that subjects her to uncontrollable seizures. She has struggled with it and addiction for years, and when she almost causes a personal tragedy with her abilities, she runs from her problems, leaving her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) to be raised by her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint). Years later, she decides to return to her roots and mend her relationship with both Bo and Lila, but she is also a target for scientists who know what she can do, leaving her secret and family in jeopardy.
Fast Color is a story from the heart. Each actor makes the characters their own, bringing dimension and emotion to every scene. We witness three black women harnessing their power as people and as supernatural beings. Mbatha-Raw is a personal favorite of mine, especially after seeing her in Amma Asante’s 2013 historical biopic Belle. She’s wonderful as the screwed-up Ruth, trying to figure out who she is and embrace her legacy. Toussaint and Sidney have natural chemistry to round out the cast, exuding a true sense of family. You’ll notice a particularly fluid scene that shows this, when the three generations move in an unconscious, synchronized way as they fix breakfast, literally interweaving their destinies.
The details of the film are well thought out, from the color palette of warm hues in Bo’s home to the cold blues of the outer world; the scoring by Rob Simonsen and the gorgeous backdrop of New Mexico to give this dystopian future a believable home. There is even a song by the British punk band X-Ray Spex, fronted by the late Poly Styrene, an iconic black woman representing in a white majority world, and connects with the main character Ruth on a deeper level because of their biracial identities.
I hope when you see this film, you’ll come away with the same feeling I did: a triumphant, warm buzz as the final credits roll. Not only are the performances organic and beautiful, but this is a story about women of color who accept themselves and their powers in the face of a mortal threat. And what’s even more incredible is that a white director wrote the script. As the story goes Julia Hart, along with her husband Jordan Horowitz, wrote the script with no one in particular in mind, so the default was a white woman like herself. After seeing Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights, she reset her course and the rest is history.
With a customized script for a black actor, Hart made it her mission to create characters of color who represented properly, and she did that by workshopping the script with her cast for authenticity. In Hart’s eyes, white creators can do better by creating with inclusive storytelling; “uncentering” themselves from the narratives they create. This is a true story of Afrofuturism with black characters changing the course of history, and I’d like to think Octavia E. Butler would be pleased with this film because of the representation coming to life in Fast Color. Stream it now on Amazon Prime (US) and Google Play.
Watch this fantastic Q & A with the director Julia Hart and lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw at a screening in 2019:
Here is a Patreon account for the upcoming Poly Styrene documentary by her daughter Celeste Bell: https://www.patreon.com/iamacliche