At SXSW: Fast Color

Fast Color is a movie of and for this moment. Written and directed by Julia Hart and starring a primarily female African American cast including Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Tussaint, and Saniyya Sidney, it’s a film that will appeal to audiences hungry for more diversity in their genres like superhero films. Though it likely won’t be as widely popular as Black Panther, it’s a further redefinition of the genre with its restraint and focus on the human element of being superhuman.

Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth, a young woman on the run. Government agents are pursuing her because she has special, mysterious powers: when she has seizures, she causes earthquakes. With nowhere else to hide, Ruth returns to her family farm in rural Texas where she reconnects with her mother Bo (Tussaint) and daughter Lila (Sidney). Her mother and daughter also have special abilities, and it’s through their conversations that we learn they are the latest in a long line of women with these special powers. They are able to break down any item into something like its atomic particles and put it back together, if they want. They can’t, however, put broken things back together. More on this in a moment.

Once Ruth reaches the farm, nothing much happens, making for a slower second act. Things pick up a bit in the final act with the “showdown” with government agents. Unlike most superhero films, there aren’t any action-packed gun fights or displays of power. Instead it’s a continuation of the beautiful depictions of what these women can do that we’ve seen throughout the film but punctuated with a clear implication that they‘re not to be messed with.

While Fast Color has the largest heart of any superhero film in recent memory, it falters a bit in its superhero mythology. What these women can do—and how and why they are able to—is a little murky and inconsistent. The implication at the end of the film is that Ruth has repaired a massive breach in the world, i.e. put together something that was heretofore broken. Unless Ruth’s ability to repair this breach is an evolution in her family’s superpowers, it feels inconsistent with the mythology.

Writer/director Hart called Fast Color a film about mothers. More than the artistic displays of their power, this is the beauty of the film. The tenderness of words spoken and left unsaid, the pain of leaving, the agony of absence, and the reluctant joy of return make Fast Color a deeply human drama. If it can retain this spiritual and emotional depth in (hopefully) its sequel(s), while better grounding its superhero mythology, it will be a truly special series.