No matter how much anyone on either side of the argument wants to boil it down to its simplest terms, representation in media can be a complex matter. Personally, I have issues with how it’s implemented in certain instances, because it’s debilitatingly easy to see when it’s authentic, and when it’s just transparent pandering by committee. As to how this all relates to the news of longtime Fast and Furious director Justin Lin opting out of the final two films in the franchise, I feel that it’s a conversation worth having. Although many would dismiss the films as mindless action not worth such regard, I do feel that it’s important to acknowledge the strides it’s made regarding diversity both in front of and behind the camera.
In the grand scheme of things, what other action movie franchise, outside of maybe James Bond or Mission Impossible, has had the level of success that the Fast and Furious franchise has had over the course of nine films, and one spin-off? This is a franchise that has yet to truly fall victim to the law of diminishing returns after 20 years, led by more POC lead actors than any major comic book film of the last decade, Black Panther and Shang-Chi notwithstanding. Outside of the original, every other entry in the franchise has had a non-white director. Before the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Fast 7 was the fastest film to make a billion dollars worldwide. I can only speculate that the media figured a new Star Wars movie after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm should be positioned to be the biggest release of that year, hence the subsequent downplaying of this particular achievement almost from jump. As folks returned to theaters last year, after the initial Covid lockdown, despite Fast 9 holding the top spot for Hollywood-produced films at the worldwide box office until the release of No Time To Die, media outlets tripped over themselves to anoint other blockbusters throughout the year that made a fraction of Fast 9’s overall gross, as the “saviors of the cinemas”.
Representation matters, but it only seems to matter in selective contexts, provided there’s movement of “the conversation”. I can’t help but feel as though the Fast and Furious franchise is often excluded from the overall topic of representation in media because it isn’t actively trying to have discussions about race, gender, or class in the most obvious ways that will appeal to our current pop culture media landscape. But it’s there, and it’s real. It matters just as much as any “prestige drama” featuring a POC cast and/or director. And as such, I personally think it would be a bit of a missed opportunity were the franchise to end having never hired a female director. Yes, from an optics standpoint, it would definitely be something to have the trades in a tizzy leading up to the release of either Fast X or the finale (most likely, whoever ends up replacing Lin as director may be hired for both), as there’s almost guaranteed to be no overlooking such a scenario. Yes, the Youtubers who cultivate hatred of any media that pushes underrepresented groups to the forefront, to drive engagement on their respective channels, will cry “EWWWW!!! The Fast and Furious franchise is trying to be WOKE!!!”. The reality of course being that The Fast and The Furious has always been aware of its emphasis on highlighting such groups of people in Hollywood, and just not wanting to always make a big deal out of it (I believe that’s what the kids today call, “normalizing”). And the reality is that there are plenty of women directors who either direct action films, or want to direct action films, and there has to be at least one who would love to do a Fast and Furious movie. Does it sound like I have my own list of recommendations? Hell yeah, I do!
Now to be fair, I recommend Salli Richardson-Whitfield for a lot of stuff, and it’s because she’s put in the work. This woman has done everything from action to drama, horror, and sci-fi. The fact that Marvel Studios or Warner Bros. haven’t snatched her up for a major comic book film after directing for shows like Black Lightning, The Punisher, Doom Patrol, Luke Cage, and Agents of SHIELD, is legitimately reprehensible. Making the jump from television directing to film can be a difficult transition, but plenty have pulled it off.
We’ve already had one director known primarily for horror step into the franchise and succeed. Why not another? Janiak has honed her directing chops in the genre directing episodes of Scream The Series and Outcast, as well as Netflix’s Fear Street Trilogy, which earned its fair share of praise, especially from yours truly. I don’t know if she has quite the visual flair that James Wan was able to bring to Fast 7, but this could be her moment to shine, and pull out a few new tricks.
If you haven’t already seen The Old Guard on Netflix, you should definitely check it out. That film had a “chosen family” quality about it that would most certainly serve a Fast and Furious film well. This is such a great film for how the action informs story and character in a way that is both unique and practical. I know Prince-Bythewood is busy with post-production on The Woman King, but if Universal has to wait, it might be worth it.
I will admit, I had Kusama on my shit list after Aeon Flux, but the failure of that film probably lied more on studio interference than her skills as a filmmaker. She’s long since won me back however, with films like The Invitation and Destroyer. Folks even came around to re-evaluating Jennifer’s Body in a more positive light, so I would be all for her stepping into the director’s chair for a Fast and Furious movie, especially since her planned Dracula film was recently scrapped. Plus . . . Girlfight/Aeon Flux reunion with Michelle Rodriguez and Charlize Theron!!!
I’ve actually had this thought going as far back as the first time Justin Lin decided not to return to direct a Fast and Furious film, with Fast 7. Let’s be real, the first film owes its DNA, skeletal structure, and central nervous system to Bigelow’s 1991 classic, Point Break. It is a wholesale, beat-for-beat, jack move of its plot, characters, even the second act red herring with the rival street racing gang! Even the circumstances of Paul Walker’s introduction to his subsequent love interest in the film, are lifted from Keanu Reeve’s own introduction to Lori Petty in Point Break! What better way to end this franchise, than to have the woman who directed the movie y’all flagrantly ripped off to even start it, direct the final two installments! Just because I love this franchise in totality doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore the wanton plagiarism it displayed in its infancy!
**WILD CARD PICK**
But seriously though, have y’all seen Titane?!