A Mixed Race Girl Watches Fast & Furious 6
Thanks to Myc Wiatrowski’s fantastic article about the Cheerios miscegenation debacle, consumers of the Electric Feast have had a chance to become familiar with the plight of the mixed race person when it comes to looking for representation in TV and film. Basically, we don’t exist. We’re all over the place in the Target and L.L. Bean catalogues, but onscreen, not so much. We are so invisible that the mere suggestion that we exist in a TV commercial caused everybody’s racist uncle to climb out of his underground helter skelter shelter and learn how to use the YouTubes. Not great.
So imagine you are a sixteen year old mixed kid from the whitest neighborhood in the world. Everywhere you’ve lived, you’ve had one Japanese kid in your class, and that has pretty much been the extent of your experience with non-white people outside of your family. You roll up on the movie theater with your white best friend to see The Fast & the Furious because you’ve both watched The Skulls and She’s All That too many times to count and would never pass up the opportunity to see Paul Walker on the big screen.
Then what to your wondering eyes should appear, but a sea of racially ambiguous faces, just like yours. And it’s like that M&Ms commercial where Santa sees those talking candies and gasps, “They do exist!” before falling to the floor in a dead faint. And okay, now for the next decade everyone’s going to tell you that you look like Michelle Rodriguez because she has roughly the same skin tone as you, but hey, it’s worth it to finally have someone you kinda resemble other than Scary Spice and Piggy from Road Rules.
It’s been twelve years since I learned that I was not some sort of Time Lord or last unicorn, and I’ve gotta say, the novelty has not worn off — mostly because the media still has yet to entirely acknowledge our existence.
Fast & Furious 6 maintains the tradition begun with the first film in 2001. At this point, Brian O’Conner is the sole white male in the gang, and he’s not the leader. That’s Dom, played by the outspokenly mixed race Vin Diesel. The rest of the crew is a melange of women, minorities, and women minorities. I can feel my pulse speed up the first time I see them assembled together in one room and I’m this close to fist pumping the air like I’m the lost cast member of Jersey Shore.
Ludacris plays the tech nerd. Not the Asian guy. Ludacris. Tyrese plays the vain, clumsy one. Not some Sandra Bullock or Katherine Heigl type. Tyrese. Interracial relationships abound: Brian & Mia. Gisele & Han. Dom & Elena. Letty & Shaw. Dom & Letty. It’s as if being attracted to someone of a different race were like, normal or something.
The women fight just as hard, and at times way better than the men. One of the female characters ends up sacrificing her life for a man in a way normally reserved for the love-stricken male hero saving the damsel in distress — as if it were instead Rose freezing to death in the water while Jack floated to safety on ship debris. There are no damsels here. Even when requiring rescue, the females do at least 50% of the work to get themselves out of the mess. They are equal protectors of their male counterparts. In one scene, two female characters discuss a male character in a distinctly paternal(istic) way, one promising the other she’ll take care of him and keep him out of trouble while they both look on at him like a doting dad giving away his daughter to a suitable mate.
Let’s be clear here: The makers of the Fast and Furious franchise know what they are doing. It’s not accidental that the women are tough, the minorities abundant, and the stereotypes messed with. Are there plenty of anonymous women wearing next to nothing in the background? Oh, for sure. And lest we forget, our daring protagonists are also technically criminals. It’s not perfect. But it’s self-aware. One of the funniest scenes in the movie comes after a white guy mistakes Tej and Hobbs for kitchen help at an expensive car auction, then goes on to explain to them that they could never afford these cars while using stereotypical hood slang to further put them in their place. Nek minnit, the same white dude is delivering those cars to them in their warehouse, and as he grovels and insists that he will gladly assist them in any way he can, the twosome take him up on the offer by forcing him to strip and give all of his clothes to Hobbs. I can feel the fist pump brewing again and I half expect Hobbs to call the groveling white guy, “Boy,” before sending him on his way. There is nothing subtle about the Jim Crow reversal here.
In the end, all the entire group wants to do is move back to the rundown Los Angeles neighborhood from which they came. They have lived the good life in exotic locations worldwide, but the barrio is their paradise. Think about that. When has living in the hood ever been aspirational? It’s supposed to stand for poverty, violence, and inherent inferiority. It’s supposed to be the place you escape. In Fast & Furious 6, it’s not the last resort. It’s Main Street U.S.A. Who wouldn’t want to live there in beautiful, urban, multiracial harmony?
Fist pump with me now.
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Corrigan Vaughan is a grad student with a penchant for TV, travel, and haunted stuff. She spends the majority of her time reading, writing, and dominating at pub quiz. A Masshole by birth, she now holds down the West Coast for the Electric Feast family, going to cons, hitting up movie premieres, and reading comic books outside the Griffith Observatory. She hugged Karl Urban once and has told everyone she's ever met since about it.