The Fast and The Furious: Diversity in Hollywood

Actors from left to right: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Paul Walker,
Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster

I have been a huge fan of The Fast and the Furious franchise from the very beginning, but I never thought it would explode in popularity the way it has since the first movie in 2001. Initially, I watched the movie because I liked Vin Diesel in Pitch Black and I love cars. For anyone who hasn't watched the movies, they follow the lives of main characters Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and their crew—often referred to as their family: Toretto's sister and O'Conner's girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster), Toretto's girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Vince (Matt Schulze), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang), and Gisele (Gal Gadot). Other characters that appear as important characters at some point in the franchise include Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), Elena (Elsa Pataky), Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), Sean (Lucas Black), Twinkie (Bow Wow), Neela (Nathalie Kelley), Leo (Tego Calderon), and Santos (Don Omar). As of now, there are a total of 7 feature length films in the franchise, and the actors/actresses listed previously are only the major players on the same side as Toretto and O'Conner. As the franchise grew and introduced more characters, it became impossible not to notice how diverse the main cast is. The villains, minor characters, and extras are equally as diverse. But simply casting actors and actresses of different races isn't why this franchise is radically diverse for Hollywood, nor why I love the casting choices.

Matt Schulze plays Vince
Photocredit: Featureflash/Shutterstock.com

Elimination of the Token Character

Most movies or TV shows contain a token minority character which is under developed and there just for the sake of adding color to the cast. Generally the first to die in horror or slasher films, the token character is predictable and boring. Token characters are almost always the spitting image of a stereotype. Often the token character is the side-kick of the main character or some forgettable minor character that pops in and out of the plot. Fortunately, there are no token characters in The Fast and the Furious franchise. Every character has a purpose and a back story, which not only gives each character depth, but allows you to focus on the story as each character fits into the story like a piece of a puzzle. Essentially, it nails the concept of subtly; you can enjoy the diversity without being led to focus on the diversity.

Gal Gadot plays Gisele
Photocredit: s_buckley/Shutterstock.com

Diverse Personalities

Along with giving each character a back story and purpose, the franchise enables the audience to see different personalities within a single race. One of the problems with token characters, is that they come off as a statement on the producer's opinion of a particular race. There exists no counter balance in the character's personality, which only serves to perpetuate the stereotypes from which the character stems. Take, as an example, the series' characters Roman and Tej. Both are Black men, but have vastly different personalities. Roman is the loud mouth of the group and as one of the other characters puts it, can "BS his way through anything." He's a bit of a jokster and provides much of the comic relief in the the series, whether he's making the jokes or is the punchline of the joke. Tej on the other hand is more low key. Tej takes on the role of the smart guy; he's good with computers and circuits. This enables viewers to leave each movie with multiple perspectives on how someone of a given race behaves, enforcing a subconscious reminder that people of a certain race are not all the same. This trait is an extreme necessity in bringing racial harmony to our society.

Strong Female Characters

Nathalie Emmanuel plays Ramsey
Photocredit: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.com
Action movies are generally written for male audiences. While the inclusion of scenes focusing on scantily clad women and "cat fights" still caters to the male audience, the main female characters are just as diverse in personality as the male characters. Each leading lady has her own strengths, weaknesses, and attitude. Toretto's sister Mia is the least involved in the action, though she joins in when needed. Letty is all attitude, no frills. Gisele is a no-nonsense go getter who always succeeds when she takes charge. Elena, the widowed cop seeking to provide true justice in the wake of the unjust killing of her husband, is tough yet shows her emotional side. Furious 7 introduces Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) who may not take the wheel, but is a genius hacker who has developed the worlds most powerful hacking tool. The addition of this character even brought up a dialogue in the movie about what a hacker/computer scientist is "supposed" to look like; which, as a female in computer science, I've heard quite often. Also, while the franchise featured Latina actresses Michelle Rodriguez, Eva Mendes, and Nathalie Kelley, and Ashkenazi Jewish actress Gal Gadot as leading ladies, Nathalie Emmanuel is the first woman of color in the series with a noticeably darker complexion. Though we're still waiting on an Asian woman to join the main group, the female leads are still fairly diverse in both personality and race, which is a welcome change that I would not expect in an action movie.

Sung Kang, who plays Han
Photocredit: s_buckley/Shutterstock.com

Character Relationships

First are the romantic relationships: Toretto and Letty, O'Conner and Mia, Han and Gisele. It's great that two thirds of the pairings are interracial. Most images in todays society are still of monoracial couples, but The Fast and Furious franchise went completely against the grain and made most of the couples interracial. Whats even better is that this only adds to the sense of family between the characters. Throughout the series it is continually mentioned that they're not just a team but that they're a family. While it is obvious that a special friendship exists between Toretto and O'Conner versus Tej and Roman which seems to fall along racial lines, this prevents the sidekick power-play usually present with token characters. While O'Conner is always trying to beat Toretto, Tej and Roman are trying to 1-up each other, but the series never falls into a situation where the minority character is always second-best to White character. Plus, we still get to witness the friendship between these characters as a whole, proving that their friendship is above racial lines.

Final Thoughts

For me this franchise combines elements I love (specifically cars and action) with believable and well executed diversity. What do you think of the casting choices? Do you know of any other movies that are as positively diverse?

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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