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'Fast Color' Celebrates A Supermom Who Literally Moves Heaven And Earth

Apr 19, 2019
Originally published on April 19, 2019 7:20 pm

Moms perform heroic tasks every day, but they rarely get portrayed as superheroes. That changes in the new film Fast Color, which tells the story of three generations of black women — a daughter, a mother and a granddaughter — all of whom have supernatural powers.

The main character, Ruth, is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. "She really has this almost elemental ability to control the elements of the Earth ... and she's having difficulty controlling it," explains Mbatha-Raw. Ruth's seizures cause earthquakes and "it's almost a shameful thing for her because it's disruptive and she doesn't know how to direct that power."

Ruth had a daughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney), when she was very young, and left her to be raised by her grandmother, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint). The film follows the three women as they grapple with fraught family relationships, and the extraordinary power they share.


Interview Highlights

On moms as superheroes

Julia Hart — a wonderful writer director — she wrote this script after she'd had her first child and felt ... that women's power ... their ultimate power, is creation. We haven't really celebrated that in films before in this way, you know, and I think there is a sense that motherhood is something that means your creativity in your career, or in your life, somehow has to slow down. And I think certainly for Julia, it accelerated and it brought forth this story. So I think celebrating, you know, women's ultimate superpower being motherhood itself is something I'm really proud to be a part of.

On what Ruth is running from

We start off in the film and Ruth is kind of on the run — and it's very mysterious — we don't really know what she's running from. But we then flashback in the movie further to see her childhood, her adolescence, and her sort of struggling with herself — her identity, her relationship with her mother. ...

We come to understand that Ruth is not really on the run from somebody; she's sort of on the run from herself. She's on the run from her own power. ... She's really running from the identity of motherhood. ... [She] has these many demons inside of her, and she's not really sure how to harness her full, authentic self.

On having a power that must be hidden

I was drawn to the idea of women not feeling comfortable to express themselves and not feeling like they were living in a world where they were being listened to or appreciated. We shot this movie almost two springs ago ... it's been fascinating to see, you know, this awakening that's happened for women over the last two years. ... The resonances there are so distinct and strong. But I think certainly in the film it's really about women as a culture being able to become comfortable with their power which is already inside them.

Superpowers are matrilineal in Fast Color. From left, Lorraine Toussaint as Bo, Saniyya Sidney as Lila and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth.
Jacob Yakob / Lionsgate

On superpowers being passed down through women

It's about that idea of legacy. ... The idea of it just being women really is so empowering, especially where we are culturally. To see that we are all connected through the generations ... it's almost like passing on the baton of wisdom.

You look at what's happening now with the women's movement and ... looking back a few generations to feminism in the '70s, and how it's evolved now, and the next generation of young girls that are growing up, you know, with social media and ... how they can feel all of that ... connectivity globally now through the Internet. ... It's about women feeling a sense of community as well.

On whether the film was meant to be about "Black Girl Magic"

The characters weren't ethnically specific in the script. ... So I wasn't really endowing them with any racial connotations. ... It's only really in retrospect in talking about the film afterwards that people have drawn that out of it and have endowed it with that culturally. So I think that's part of the power of film as well, is that you bring your own experience to it. ... It was just these three women as scripted, and then Julia cast myself, Lorraine and Saniyya and suddenly it brought on another level of cultural significance and meaning.

Marc Rivers and Sarah Handel produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

If you're into superhero movies, this one - "Fast Color" - might feel familiar - at first.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FAST COLOR")

GUGU MBATHA-RAW: (As Ruth) The world's going to die. I can feel it coming.

CHANG: You know the usual deal with superhero movies - some white guy with big muscles and an even bigger ego sweeps in and saves the day. But in "Fast Color," the first thing that needs saving is the hero, the main character, Ruth.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FAST COLOR")

LORRAINE TOUSSAINT: (As Bo) How did she survive out there on her own, as broken as she is?

MBATHA-RAW: She really has this almost elemental ability to control the elements of the earth. You know, she's having difficulty controlling it. And so there's these earthquakes that happen when she has these seizures. And it's almost a shameful thing for her because it's disruptive, and she doesn't know how to direct that power.

CHANG: That's actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She stars as Ruth, the daughter of Bo, who's played by Lorraine Toussaint. Ruth is also the mother of Lila, played by Saniyya Sidney. The way these three generations of black women deal with their superpowers and each other make up the heart of the film.

MBATHA-RAW: We start off in the film, and Ruth is kind of on the run. And we - it's very mysterious. We don't really know what she's running from. But we then flashback in the movie further in to see her childhood, her adolescence and her sort of struggling with herself, her identity. Her relationship with her mother is quite fraught.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FAST COLOR")

MBATHA-RAW: (As Ruth) Look. I know you're angry.

TOUSSAINT: (As Bo) Angry? You told me to pretend you were dead.

MBATHA-RAW: (As Ruth) There's nowhere else for me to go.

TOUSSAINT: (As Bo) What is that supposed to mean?

MBATHA-RAW: (As Ruth) I'm sober - 11 months. I knew getting sober meant the seizures might come back.

And really, I'm - you know, we come to understand that Ruth is not really on the run from somebody. She's sort of on the run from herself. She's on the run from her own power. And she has this daughter that she had quite young, who's now 10 years old. But because of her addictions, you know, she abandoned her and - to be raised by her grandmother.

So she's really running from the identity of motherhood. And she's also, as I say, has these many demons inside of her. And she's not really sure how to harness her full authentic self.

CHANG: I want to play a clip from the film. This is Ruth, your character, and her daughter, Lila, talking in Lila's room.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FAST COLOR")

SANIYYA SIDNEY: (As Lila) Don't you ever wonder if our abilities meant something, like we could really do something?

MBATHA-RAW: (As Ruth) We're not superheroes, Lila. We're just trying to get by.

SIDNEY: (As Lila) But what if there's more?

MBATHA-RAW: (As Ruth) Trust me, there's not.

SIDNEY: (As Lila) But what if there is and you just can't see it?

MBATHA-RAW: (As Ruth) Don't be in such a hurry to leave, OK?

SIDNEY: (As Lila) Why not? You did.

CHANG: What was interesting in this movie is that having superpowers was like this terrible burden for Ruth, you know, something that she had to hide away in case she harmed people with the power. That idea of hiding away a power, it made me curious. Is there something about that that feels familiar to you personally, like having a gift that you're not encouraged to show people. To display?

MBATHA-RAW: I mean, it's interesting. I think, certainly culturally, I was drawn to the idea of women not feeling comfortable to express themselves and not feeling like they were living in a world where they were being listened to or appreciated. And we shot this movie almost two springs ago, which is amazing. You know, it's been on a journey, went to South by Southwest last year and been on the independent film journey.

But it's been fascinating to see, you know, this awakening that's happened for women over the last two years since we've made this film. And really, the resonances there are so, so distinct and strong. And - but I think, certainly in the film, it's really about women as a culture being able to become comfortable with their power. Which is already inside them.

CHANG: Yeah. Now, the story is about three generations of women - a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter. Why do you think it was important to the story that these powers, these abilities were only passed down through women?

MBATHA-RAW: Well, I think it's about that idea of legacy. And I don't know. I think the idea of it just being women, really, is so empowering, especially where we are culturally, you know, to see that we are all connected through the generations. And it's almost like passing on the baton of wisdom, you know.

And, you know, you look at what's happening now, you know, with the women's movement. And, you know, looking back a few generations to, you know, feminism in the '70s and how it's evolved now and the next generation of young girls that are growing up with social media and the power of, you know, Time's Up and how they can feel all of that globally and that that connectivity globally now through the Internet is so much bigger than it ever was.

CHANG: Time's Up, yeah, that's the movement inspired by #MeToo that started in Hollywood.

MBATHA-RAW: That's right. So I feel like, you know, it's about women feeling a sense of community as well. So I kind of love that relationship angle.

CHANG: And it made me think, has there ever been a movie where the superhero was a mom? I - like, I honestly can't think of a movie, a superhero that is also a mother.

MBATHA-RAW: Right, I know. It's incredible. And, you know, speaking to Julia Hart - our wonderful writer, director - you know, she wrote this script after she'd had her first child and felt like, you know, that women's power is really - their ultimate power is creation. And we haven't really celebrated that in films before in this way.

You know, and I think there is a sense that, you know, motherhood is something that means your creativity in your career or in your life somehow has to slow down. And I think, certainly for Julia, it accelerated, and it brought forth this story. So I think celebrating, you know, women's ultimate superpower being motherhood itself is something I'm really proud to be a part of.

CHANG: There's this concept that, you know, it's become pretty popular, this idea of black girl magic. It's kind of this celebration of the accomplishments of black women despite the odds. In this film, though, there is literal magic going on here.

MBATHA-RAW: (Laughter) Yeah. I mean, it's really interesting to me because it wasn't, you know, the script and the characters weren't ethnically specific in the script. They were just Ruth, you know, Bo and Lila.

So I wasn't really endowing them with any racial connotations until the movie was cast. And even then, it's funny - it's only really in retrospect in talking about the film afterwards that people have drawn that out of it and have endowed it with that culturally.

So I think that's part of the power of film as well is that you bring your own experience to it. And, as I say, it was just these three women as scripted. And then Julia cast myself, Lorraine and Saniyya. And suddenly, it brought on another level of cultural significance and meaning.

CHANG: Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in the new movie "Fast Color." Thank you very much for joining us.

MBATHA-RAW: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.