From director Julia Hart and written by Hart and her partner Jordan Horowitz (best known for his role in the La La Land Oscar debacle), comes unusual superhero movie Fast Color. Hart’s previous work as a writer-director was Miss Stevens – a fascinating and truthful depiction of a drama teacher (played by Lily Rabe). It features an early performance from Timothee Chalamet as one of her students and really demonstrates his potential as an actor. Hart now tackles the story of three generations of black women, who have inherited special powers via the maternal line in their family. It is set in the near future and it has been eight years since the last rainfall, water is obviously extremely scarce and expensive and Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a woman on the run, trying to survive.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is one of Britain’s best actors, with a great track record of working with women directors including Amma Asante, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ava DuVernay and Stephanie Laing. Fast Color has quite a lot in common with DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, especially once Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) is introduced. Ruth’s mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and daughter’s powers involve being able to break material things down into tiny particles and reassembling them. Ruth’s powers have evolved into something more destructive – she has fits which cause earthquakes. All the women have had to spend their lives in hiding for fear they will be discovered and rounded up by the authorities. This has led to rebellion in all of the women – Bo snuck out when she was young and got pregnant by Ellis (David Strathairn – who can blame her?). Ruth ran away when she was young and became a drug addict in an effort to subdue her powers, then she got pregnant with Lila without really knowing the father. Lila now has similar ambitions to escape, by using her powers to steal tools and fixing up an old truck.
The score by Rob Simonsen is one of the greatest strengths of Fast Color, particularly towards the end when Ruth starts to harness the true potential of her power. It is soaring, pulsing, urgent and perfectly complements the colour of the title. Without giving too much away, Ruth’s power manifests in something akin to a combination of the Northern Lights, the shimmer from Annihilation and the Holi Festival in India. It is stunningly realised, in what was presumably a low-budget independent film. The production design by Gae Buckley is also extremely detailed and strong – especially at Bo’s farm in the middle of nowhere, where her family has hid for generations. There is some stunning cinematography by Michael Fimognari of the huge vistas of the American West. Hart’s choices of framing and blocking within scenes is also carefully constructed, particularly in scenes involving the three women. The acting of the supporting cast – the veterans Toussaint and Strathairn and the young Sidney is excellent. Christopher Denham magnificently plays a scientist keen to capture Ruth so they can try to harness her powers, treading a fine line between appearing innocent with an underlying predatory creepiness.
Fast Color succeeds in its nuanced depiction of an imperfect mother and daughter, both in the writing and Mbatha-Raw’s performance. Having to stay away from Lila in order to protect her is clearly a struggle for Ruth. However, their reunion is not overly sentimental or sappy – the practical reality of their lives is conveyed in a matter-of-fact way. The environmental theme is also not heavy-handed but instead is a completely plausible and naturalistic view of a near-future world which could well happen within a generation or two. The portrayal of a super-power being inherited down the maternal line through a family of black women is extremely potent and metaphorically significant. Their struggle with these powers and their rebellion against the constraints placed upon them are also themes which will resonate with so many and it is hoped that many can experience this film on a big screen. Unfortunately, there seems to have been hardly any marketing push by the studio and it is unlikely to last long in cinemas. Whether Fast Color even gets a UK release remains to be seen.
We are completely saturated with superhero movies at the moment – the irony of Fast Color being released just a few days before Endgame is almost too much to bear. It is shame that room cannot be made in the multiplexes for both types of film depicting super powers. This little movie really deserves an audience, particularly of younger people – the environmental warning and the powerful representation of black women and girls is something that cinema goers need to see.