[CONTENT WARNING: drug abuse, drug addiction, racism, eugenics, attempted filicide]
It wasn’t easier. You just got better.
I’m sure you’ve heard sayings like this your entire life.
Practice makes perfect. Practice is everything. Success is learned. So on, and so forth.
And this quote is essentially the theme of director Julia Hart’s film Fast Color. If you’ve never heard of this film, you’re probably not alone. The film stars three generations of Black women with mysterious superpowers, and somehow, it has been swept under the rug of the cinematic world.
Fast Color is a film about Ruth, a woman with extraordinary powers; her daughter Lila, who fixes everything she can get her hands on; and her mother Bo, the matriarch of the family, who does the best she can to protect her and her descendants’ abilities. If there was ever a family deserving of the hashtag “Black girl magic,” it would be this one! The movie finds a way to effortlessly blend together the women’s struggles with their powers and their efforts to rebuild their familial bonds all at the same time.
Fast Color takes place in a futuristic, dystopian version of the United States (one could argue that we are already there), somewhere in the Midwest. The scariest part about this version of the United States is that it hasn’t rained in eight years. I’m still not too sure about the reason why, but I suspect that it has something to do with climate change. Water is a luxury item, and it has the expensive price tag to prove it. I’d argue that water is a character in this movie, just as much as anyone else! Seeing this element of the film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of areas of the United States today with large Black populations, like Flint, MI and Newark, NJ, that still find safe and drinkable water hard to come by.
The movie starts with Ruth on the run from scientists who want to take samples of her blood and run tests on her in a lab. This element of the film reminded me of the way that our government has been (openly) experimenting on Black people without their consent for centuries, like in the case of Henrietta Lacks, the participants of the Tuskegee Experiment, and with participants of modern-day ancestry-related DNA tests. It’s no wonder that Ruth doesn’t trust the scientist Bill when he tries to explain to her that he doesn’t want to hurt her; he only wants to take some samples of her blood. I’d be scared too!
While it may not seem like running away is such a difficult feat, Ruth has seismic seizures that give away her location because she’s always at the epicenter of them, and earthquakes don’t typically happen in the Midwest, climate change, or not. Ruth has been having these seizures since she was a child, but they’re different now: stronger. She notices that with her being 11 months sober, the seizures are now stronger than ever. It’s a power that Ruth knows she can get a handle on and channel into something more constructive.
With nowhere else to hide, Ruth decides to go back home to her mother’s house, where she grew up: a place out in the middle of nowhere constructed to hide young Ruth’s seizures from the rest of society. Bo, Ruth’s mother still lives there with Ruth’s estranged daughter, Lila. Bo and Lila also possess amazing powers, as this ability runs in all of the women in their family. Their powers allow them to take things apart on a molecular level and put them back together with the same composition. They can also see “the colors,” as they are referred to in the film. Bo jokingly tells Ruth as a child that she knows of a woman, Simona, who lives in Rome that can use her powers to “take apart the sky.”
When Ruth arrives back home, she meets Lila for the second time in her life since she’d abandoned her right after giving birth. She works on mending her relationship with both her mother, and her daughter, while also trying to regain control of her powers.
Because of the severity of Ruth’s seizures, she always had to be tied up before them. This reminds me of how Black women are expected to hold themselves back in society to make the people around them more comfortable. But Ruth knows that if she were truly able to control her powers, she would be even more of a force! Bo helps Ruth work on regaining control over her abilities with exercises featuring breathwork and meditation. I love spiritual stuff, and watching Bo explain to Ruth that she needed to focus on the oneness of everything in order to take objects apart got me very excited!
When Ruth wasn’t working on controlling her powers, she was spending time with Lila. The two bond over broken windows, broken bowls, and throwback Lauryn Hill and Nina Simone records. It was very touching to watch the two of them share an intimate mother-daughter bond after more than a decade of being apart.
Eventually, the scientists and police, who are trailing Ruth, find out that she is at her mother’s home, and she is forced to flee again. Before she leaves, in the truck that Lila fixes, she tells her curious daughter who wants to know more about the meaning behind their powers, “We’re not superheroes, Lila. We’re just trying to get by.” Lila, like most children, who have not been yet jaded by society feels that there is a greater reason for their abilities, and she wants to know if there are other people out there like them. In an effort to kill Lila’s curiosity and protect (Ruth’s definition, not mine) her from the cruel world outside of Bo’s yard, Ruth speaks to Lila in a very cold manner before fleeing from her life once again.
On her way to get gas, after the truck runs out of it in the middle of nowhere (I mean the entire movie takes place in the middle of nowhere if you ask me), Ruth has another seizure. But this one is different. This one triggers a flashback to when Lila was first born, and a drug-addicted Ruth tries to drown her. This repressed memory triggers something in Ruth. It allows her to finally be able to see “the colors.” The movie becomes vibrant for the first time ever. Unlocking this dark memory of her almost taking the life of her newborn daughter allows Ruth to “take apart the sky,” as Bo called it. (It’s almost like allowing your emotions to be free allows you to flourish in other areas of life, as well. A concept!) Excited by this new revelation, Ruth rushes back home, only to find out that Lila has been arrested for trying to use her powers on the police when they arrived looking for Ruth. As Ruth and her mother rush to the police station to get Lila, with the help of Ruth’s father, the group is stopped as soon as they arrive by the scientists and cops who are still looking for Ruth. Using her newly awakened powers, Ruth causes it to rain (for the first time in eight years!) right outside of the police station.
In the most dramatic scene in the film, Bo disintegrates the cops’ weapons that are aimed at her, Ruth, and Ruth’s father. (Much better than what usually happens to Black people when cops have their guns aimed at them! *sigh*) She then offers herself to them in the place of Ruth and Lila, telling the cops, “Every time we come into the light, you only try to hurt us, but we’re done hiding. A new world is coming. This is only the beginning.”
This scene had two meanings for me. I saw it as Bo talking about the obvious change of the rain returning, but also the change of Black women (Ruth and Lila, specifically), finally getting a chance to shine, without others requiring them to turn down their light to make them feel comfortable. Ruth has restored rain to a drought-stricken United States, perhaps the world, and she deserves to celebrate that fact. What she has accomplished is an amazing feat, and for her to be locked up by white men right after, would be a shame. So this is why Bo offers herself to the scientists and tells Ruth and Lila to go forth and find the other women who can “take apart the sky.” The movie ends there, but it really leaves you wondering who these other women are and what kind of lives they may lead.
(This is sort of a side note, but I’m a huge fan of tarot, and I thought it was interesting how it hadn’t rained in eight years in the movie, and how the cups suit in tarot is the one associated with water. When I look at the eight of cups card, it is a card of withdrawal and escapism and walking away from what no longer serves you in order to find clarity in a situation. And I think that this entire movie features Ruth doing just that. It’s like the eight of cups got made into a film!)
The movie was supposedly picked up by Viola Davis and Amazon for a television series, but I wasn’t able to find any updates on this. How cool would it be to watch Ruth and Lila travel to Rome and finally get to meet the fabled Simona! If the television series is still in the works, I would be more than happy to watch, but if not, I’m glad that we at least got the amazing film that is Fast Color. If you haven’t watched it yet, it can be found on Hulu and Amazon Prime. Definitely give it a watch as it may just take apart your very own sky!