I wrote this after watching Fast & Furious 6. I never posted it. I suppose now is a good time. RIP Paul Walker.
Fast and Furious (F&F) is the only film franchise with a majority non-White cast to have an national (and international) following. Consider that films with majority non-White casts are often marketed towards niche audiences, and many assume that these casting decisions inherently make a movie a “Black” movie, or an “Latino” movie (see the recent hoopla around Best Man Holiday as a “race-themed” movie). Although there are a few films that feature a majority non-White cast that garnered a national and international following (e.g., Rush Hour), but I believe that F&F is the only franchise (i.e., multiple films) with an ensemble cast (i.e., ≥ 5 major characters) to accomplish this.
Most importantly, the characters do not rely on race. The entire movie could be produced using an all White cast, or an all Asian cast, and the narrative would barely change (aside from a few race-based jokes); this makes me happy. In the wake of Fast Five (2011), there was a discussion about the racial composition of the cast, and many were quick to note that although the main characters were of color, they were also a cast of lovable criminals, thus reinforcing stereotypes of criminality within communities of color. Furthermore, the fact that the main characters are not White makes it easier and more believable for other characters to disregard their potential and instead draw on stereotypes about the quality of their criminality; “They’re just common criminals.”
I was consumed by issues of race in F&F, until a friend mentioned “I liked that the women could drive.” It was a delightful observation about the counter-stereotypical presentation of gender in the film. Throughout the franchise, women have always had very impressive road skills. There is no “damsel in distress,” a helpless female character who cannot drive. Driving is the great equalizer in F&F, and although women are still contextualized as love interests, they are considered to be indispensable members of the team.
I have seen the past 3 F&F films in the theater, and I am thoroughly committed to the franchise. I never expect an Oscar-worthy film, rather a wonderful source of entertainment that features a cast of characters that is as diverse as my friends and family, along with awesome cars, explosions, and ridiculous stunts. I understand that some may not understand the value of seeing people that look like you onscreen, but my research demonstrates that not seeing members of your race onscreen increases negative mood. Furthermore, although the symbolic annihilation of gender does not have the same effects on mood, it can affect our social schemas, and change what we expect from life itself. In the end, what I appreciate most is the intersectional nature of F&F: men and women of all colors and nationalities with a common goal, each with a unique contribution to this rag-tag family.