Lionsgate and Codeblack Films wants you to bet on the power of Black women in their upcoming release, Fast Color. Directed by Julia Hart and co-written by Hart and Jordan Horowitz, the film is a poignant look at the stunted potential of Black women in a world that is comfortable denying them their agency.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ruth, a young woman who has lived on the run since her adolescence, haunted by a power that has been passed down through the matrilineal line of her family. The telepathic power is known in her family as “seeing colors.” Though she seems to have lost her telekinetic abilities, her powers now manifest in seizures that shake the earth. As a young adult, her seizures became more intense, which led her to turn to substance abuse to dull the seizures and the depression of living in isolation with her powers, which she couldn’t use in public for fear of what ended up happening to her as an adult–imprisonment in a government science experiment. Young adult Ruth became pregnant and returned home long enough to leave her child with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) after a bad seizure put the child in danger.
Due to the earth quakes she causes, government scientists imprisoned her for study. It’s from that government agency that she escapes at the beginning of the film. As the agents close in on her location–made easier by the fact that she causes newsworthy earthquakes, Ruth has fled to her mother’s house for safety after years of being gone. She returns during the longest drought the world has seen. In spite of the horrific circumstances, Ruth still tries to reconnect with her mother and her now-preteen child Lila (Saniyya Sidney), who also has the gift. With Lila’s help, Ruth also tries to reconnect to her powers and herself.
In Fast Color, the earth is as much a character as any human in the film. In fact, the film posits Earth as an allegory for the broken Black woman, tied down by society’s rules on her life as well as the self-hate she’s picked up along the way. The earth, like the Black woman throughout history, has been hurt and ravaged. Ruth, in comparison, has been hurt by her family’s isolationism and ravaged by her own inability to control her powers, leading to her depression, and substance abuse as a self-medication technique.
The dire ecological news sets the bleak, “all is lost” tone designed to make the audience feel like there’s an untapped source of energy, a power that has been put on lockdown simply because people are afraid to trust it. There is a reason the earth hasn’t had rain in years in the world of Fast Color. It’s as if the earth is withholding its tears, much like Ruth does throughout the film, because it’s afraid of being hurt again. Ruth and the Black women in her family before her have been in a state of lockdown because of society’s fear of them. This leads to a self-victimization holding pattern; they lock themselves down on their compound, fearing any venture beyond their family home because of society’s mistreatment. Because of the continuous hurt and abuse, the earth doesn’t recognize itself anymore. Neither does Ruth. They disconnect from their magic.
That hurt is also part of the beauty of Fast Color. That hurt is what propels Ruth on her journey of healing. She realizes that one aspect of her life that she’s denied herself–her daughter–is the very key to opening her back up to her abilities and the colors of the world. Free from the shackles of her own mind, she is able to tap back into the earth’s energy and, as is said in the film, “tear apart the sky.” Her abilities bring rainwater, the unshed tears of the earth now flowing, unceasing, from bursting clouds. Her abilities reawaken the world towards a healing path.
The magic of Fast Color doesn’t lie in the characters’ powers, however, it is cool to see Toussaint, Sidney and Mbatha-Raw exhibit their godly gifts of disintegrating objects and putting them back together. As Bo says in the film, those gifts are mere “parlor tricks” in comparison to the real transfiguration at work. The magical part lies in the film’s reverence of the power within the Black woman and the recognition of the traumas Black women inherit through their bloodlines.
Ruth is hunted down by scientists who want to understand her gifts and possibly want to remove the very thing that could help her save the planet. Having the scientists played by white actors (led by Christopher Denham as Bill) seems like a very pointed decision. Too often, those who are seen as the earth-savers are the white men. That’s both in the film as well as in real life; while ecological research and conservation should be seen as efforts that would welcome all, these fields are still dominated by white men. That leaves out many non-white, non-males who could have the solutions for our ills. Even worse, too many of those white men actively ruin the planet through a manifest destiny-based view of “science.”
Often, we see the statement “Trust Black women” espoused on social media. However, Fast Color gets to the root of what “Trust Black women” actually means. It’s not something someone should simply say to make themselves look woke or more elite than others. As Fast Color proves, trusting Black women means empowering them and believing in their abilities to make the world a better place.
None of us have literal earth-shaking powers, but consider how many Black women have been turned away from STEM research opportunities, had farming or conservation techniques that were developed from Black ancestral wisdom looked down upon as pseudo-science, or were seen as a threat simply because they wanted to run for office to help all people. Think about how many Black women are stunted on the road to fulfilling their potential every single day for any number of reasons–from microaggressions, to straight-up systemic racism–regardless of what field they’re in. Think of all the Black women who have been left by the wayside, distraught and forgotten, with inventions and businesses yet to be realized. Dreams deferred, indeed.
And yet, think about how many Ruths there are in the world that, with just a little empowerment, could turn everything we know upside down for the good of all. As Bo says in the film’s climax, the scientists are afraid because the earth is dying and they don’t know what to do. “But I do,” she says. And she’s right–she does, Ruth does, and little Lila does too. Unfortunately, the solution to Earth’s problems counts on others recognizing the power and, indeed, the humanity, of others who don’t look like them. If we stop hunting others down and embrace them and their gifts, we can have a flood of new ideas ready to be utilized and leaders to choose from. We can be fruitful. And the best part is, as Fast Color subtly asserts, it’s not too late. With Lila, who has an even greater drive than her mother and grandmother to change the world with her powers, the world is still in good hands.
Fast Color, a Lionsgate and Codeblack Films, will be released in limited theaters on April 19.
Photo by Lionsgate