Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fast and furious women

Now that I'm on the fourth of an eventual five movies needed to completely catch me up with the Fast & Furious series, and you'll recall some of my thoughts on the progress of the series from this post, this post and this post, I thought I'd do something a little different than just tell you how Fast & Furious 6 was for me.

I'll tell you that also, right off the bat: It was a reasonably entertaining popcorn movie that is probably either the second or third best in the series, if ever more preposterous by leaps and bounds as the series goes on. (An argument could be made that this is actually a degree less preposterous than Fast Five, but I'm not going to spend any time on either argument right now.)

No, this time I want to focus on something that hasn't escaped my notice as I've been watching these movies. Namely, that even though there is a wide diversity in the appearance of the men in these movies, be it by skin color, hair color or ethnic background, the women seem to have a certain sameness to how they look. I'd like to explore that here and see if you think I've got a full tank or am running on fumes.

It all started with the original movie, which of course featured Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez. Because after that they didn't reappear until the fourth movie, by that time I'd forgotten which one was supposed to be Vin Diesel's sister and which one was supposed to be his girlfriend. As Diesel himself is a bit ethnically ambiguous, I thought it was definitely possible that he had a Latina sister and a white girlfriend. Though in reality, consistent with the positive worldview of the whole series, all three are meant to be a bit ethnically ambiguous. For the record, Rodriguez was/is his girlfriend and Brewster was/is his sister. (And Brewster is actually part Latina, as I later discovered.)

But something of a similarity in their appearances was also to blame. I mean, they don't look identical by any stretch, but there's some similarity about them, even if it's only the length and color of their hair. As seen here:

Of course, that's more smiling than either of them does in the entirety of the series -- or than perhaps Rodriguez has done in the entirety of her career.

So then they added a third woman in the fourth movie, Gal Gadot's Gisele. Not only because the character shares the same name as Tom Brady's model wife are you put in the mind of the world of modeling when looking at Gadot -- the actress was/is a model herself. As Rodriguez is probably the "paunchier" of her and Brewster -- a sad commentary to make on what qualifies as "paunchy" in Hollywood -- it's most useful to compare Gadot to Brewster on the female appearance continuum. And as you would expect from a model, she's like the slightly more emaciated version of Brewster, as illustrated in this photo (with an assist from Tyrese Gibson):

Where things get really confusing is in Fast Five, when Elsa Pataky gets added to the proceedings. She looks, like, almost exactly like Gadot. And given that she's paired up with Diesel and that both women look quite a bit like Brewster, one starts to wonder if Diesel was also confused about which of Rodriguez and Brewster he should love like a brother and which he should love like a lover. ("So that's how it is in their family.") Check out Gadot and Pataky here:

Would have liked a picture of them standing next to each other, but then you'd get distracted by the difference in their heights. Gadot towers over Pataky. And though this picture of Pataky does not look that much like she looks in Fast Five, the way she actually looks is nearly a dead ringer for Gadot, so much so that every time either of them came on screen, I relied on the context to determine which was which.

Finally we get to Fast & Furious 6, in which all four of these women are still present (with Rodriguez returning after nearly a two-movie absence), and a fifth one is added. (Actually, a sixth as well, but the sixth doesn't even have any speaking lines, so we won't bother with her for the purposes of this discussion.) And if you want to look at this as progress, there's a move back toward the more paunchy with Gina Carano, the MMA fighter who made her acting debut in Steven Soderbergh's Haywire. Carano can be thought of as a little like Pataky if you strung her up to a bicycle pump and pumped in a bit more air. (Her character also serves the same function in the story, operating as a law enforcement sidekick to Dwayne Johnson.) But because I couldn't find a picture of the two of them together, let's show her alongside Rodriguez and complete the appearance loop.

Yeah, they've got the same facial expression in this picture, which is fortuitous. But it goes deeper than that.

Obviously plenty of red carpet photographers got the idea to photograph these five fast and furious women in the promotional lead-up to Fast & Furious 6. That photo is here:

Pataky had to go and cut her hair to throw everything off.

I don't know, maybe I'm off base. But there does seem to be a certain sameness to these women that is not reflected in their men, who are black, Latino, Asian and white. However, when you dig a layer deeper, you'll see that these women also reflect the series' international bent. Rodriguez is a Texan born of Dominican and Puerto Rican parents. Carano is a Texan of Italian heritage. Brewster was actually born in Panama, the daughter of a Brazilian and an American. Pataky is from Spain. Gadot is actually the farthest outlier as she was born and raised in Israel.

Still, if I were trying to read something deeper where I probably shouldn't bother, I'd say that this somehow exemplifies the long-standing notion that attractiveness among men can be broad, varying and often irrelevant, while female beauty remains very narrowly defined -- and entirely essential to castability. While men can come in different shapes and forms, and possibly not be attractive at all (though Diesel is probably the only one in the series who can really be defined as potentially funny looking), women must continue to aspire to an ideal body type and skin color. It seems strange indeed that a series that has been unusually good at color-blind casting, with four of the main actors thought to have readily identifiable black heritage (Diesel never knew his father and is coy about what race he may have been), there has never been a single black woman given anything meaningful to do in these movies.

And in this we see kind of a skittishness about the romantic exploits of black men in general. Neither of the two fully black cast members (Gibson and Chris Bridges) have been given romantic story lines, in part because they both kind of function as comic relief, and Johnson, who is half-black and half Samoan, hasn't had a love interest either. Only Diesel has been given romantic entanglements -- several during the series -- and he is the least readily identifiable as black.

Oh well. I guess we have to take progress where we can get it. The fact that a series of action movies should be given credit for any kind of color- or gender-blind equality at all, beyond mere tokenism, is something of an anomaly in the first place, and worth celebrating.

All I have left is Furious 7, which I will watch sometime between now and January 14th.

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