White male gatekeepers are unwilling to consider stories in which they cannot insert themselves or their worldview.

-Melanie Ojwang
This essay contains spoilers for Fast Color

by Melanie Ojwang

Fast Color immediately stands out as different from the comic based blockbusters I’ve grown used to over the past decade. When it was first released, I rushed to see it, fearing that it wouldn’t be in theaters past opening weekend. It turns out that my fear wasn’t unfounded. It only played in 25 theaters, and not for very long, and director Julia Hart was vocal about how “the white male gatekeeper” stunted her movie.

Unlike traditional superhero movies, the main intentions of the supernatural characters are not to save the world, but to live without being subjugated. That concept mirrors some well known franchises, but Fast Color has no mysterious school or matching spandex suits awaiting Ruth (Gugu MBatha-Raw) and her family, daughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney) and mother, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint).

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This film makes having superpowers, something usually framed as an exciting privilege, into a restrictive and potentially dangerous existence. There are rules to be obeyed and only a few moments when the family uses their powers, for leisure or enjoyment. This isolation and self-imposed restrictions are in contrast to traditional superhero movies that show supernatural abilities often used without consequence. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example, destroying large swaths of New York City every other year wasn’t a problem vocalized within films for a while. Though the impact of their actions eventually are addressed, that dynamic is not always present.

However, Fast Color considers the impact of the characters’ decisions throughout the film. Ruth’s story, which explores trauma and healing in tandem with her supernatural abilities, advocates for reflection. She and the other characters make mistakes that are neither eternally damning nor easily brushed aside. Accountability is realistic, and responsibility is not something Ruth, Bo, or Lila are able to shirk without consequence.  

Conscientious action ultimately makes it so that these women cannot be used for someone else’s gain and that makes them a threat, in and out of the narrative. While blockbuster movies have started to look at the emotional impact being a superhero has on the main characters, a great amount of care is not always given to exploring their non-romantic relationships and personal growth, especially if the characters in question are women.

In rejecting the limited portrayals of women as tools or objects of affection, a story that utilizes a male-centric genre to consider the supernatural and ordinary experiences of women is uninteresting to male gatekeepers who are out of touch.

Though a common rebuttal to critiques of representation from people of color is “make your own content,” that content still  requires cooperation from gatekeepers for distribution and promotion. Unfortunately, it has been shown time and time again that if the distributors don’t believe in the potential of a film or do not identify with it, they have no problem limiting the access to that film. Low turnout rates are then used to justify this repeated treatment without consideration to the lack of marketing and accessibility.

The greater issue is that white male gatekeepers are unwilling to consider stories in which they cannot insert themselves or their worldview. In Fast Color, white men are shown, for the most part, as selfish and demanding antagonists without that flaw also being projected onto the Black women. The narrative does not frame the women as “just as bad” as the oppressor. There are no faceless, villainous brown bodies for a white male character to heroically slaughter to justify some greater motive or provide a flash of action. For the most part, white men are the faceless, villainous force. The story progresses without the need for white male intervention and that makes it inaccessible to their control.   

In turn, the disinterest of white male gatekeepers in the film industry manifests in lackluster industry support, negatively impacting underrepresented communities by actively limiting our access. One character’s major desire to find a community of similar people can easily be reflected onto viewers searching for representation and diversity on movie screens, but who are ultimately restricted by industry-level decisions.  

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Representation not only means changing the faces shown but also changing the narratives that viewers are exposed to. Fast Color’s storyline and presentation of trauma challenge expectations of familiar supernatural narratives. Pairing this flawed but dynamic all female family’s story with a search for a community, which resonates both in and out of the film, fills a void in cinema.

The targeted neglect by gatekeepers aims to hide stories that challenge the dominant view but, ultimately they cannot prevent the creation and sharing of these narratives.

“Fast Color” is now available to stream on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.

Melanie is a child of the South, life-long learner, writer and podcast co-host. Her writing focuses on Blackness, gender & sexual identity, social commentary, and fandom exploration.