A Black Mother’s Day adventure

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    A review of ‘Fast Color’ (2018), directed by Julia Hart (1 hour 40 minutes), featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney, Christopher Denham, David Strathairn

    Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are a family in the movie “Fast Color.” – Photo: Jacob Yakob, Codeblack Films

    by Wanda Sabir

    All the melanin in the poster attracted me to the title Fast Color, the reverse of “colorfast.” I wondered what the title meant. Certainly a chick flick, reminding me of what I liked most about “A Wrinkle in Time,” a favorite book from childhood – the largess of women and girls who, on screen at least, run the world.

    In one scene, agents have guns pointed at Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and she dissolves the guns into particles of metallic dust. Her granddaughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney), has a similar skill; grandmother’s is just more refined. Mature, she grasps clearly what she can do to both unsettle and settle the planet. It is up to her daughter, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), returned home from a time away running from herself, afraid of her power, a power that harms rather than heals – to hone her skills so that she can make her world better.

    Ruth knows her mother can help her and returns home after eight years to ask Bo for forgiveness, to get to know her daughter who is repairing her mom’s truck, and to learn to use her power constructively. She also needs to hide. Others know about her power to disrupt, and pursue her to see how they might make a profit.

    Her seizures rupture the earth at its core – molten plates shifting as the landscape cries “no more.” The young mother is afraid she might accidentally hurt her child, so she gives her to her mother to raise and then leaves. For a woman with so much going for her, Ruth sees her power as a handicap, something she tries to drown in recreational drug use, a temporary cure.

    The arid desert landscape where Bo and her granddaughter live is a homestead to generations of black magic women and their girls. Bo shares stories from their living bible, a book filled with stories and drawings by the ancestral women of the house.

    Away from the larger community, these elders felt it better to keep to themselves, not mingle; that way, there would be little curiosity and trouble. Trouble seems to follow people who are different. Ruth is proof of this. She cannot hide. However, we learn that these women are a part of a larger goddess society spanning the globe.

    As matter is decomposed and molecules reassembled, the particles move as in a dance – the light and colors swirl as in a kaleidoscope. It is a beautiful film – the huge fields and expansive skies are palates these goddesses use as easels. Viewers will never look at a metal door or handgun the same ever again. In fact, the next time we have an earthquake, thoughts of Ruth will be inevitable.

    When the film ends, Ruth has made it rain and, outside the San Francisco Metreon, the showers continued.

    Watch the trailer: https://youtu.be/se9n853lBNo

    Now that’s powerful! The film opened with a limited run. It is still at the Parkway in Oakland and at Stonestown in San Francisco. Check other listings or, better yet, ask for it at your favorite cinema. It is the perfect Mother’s Day film – the Black Woman is God – really (smile).

    I had an opportunity to speak to Gugu, who played the mother in the film “A Wrinkle in Time.” Her daughter and son, a little genius, along with a neighbor, went in search of their father, who, like mom, is a scientist who’d been working on a special project. Human beings are always interested in time’s passage – how do we stop its motion, interrupt the inevitable?

    On the way to dad – who is trapped – the kids meet these really cool goddesses, who each share a special gift to help the kids meet their goal. Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book by the same title, Gugu intentionally accepts roles that lift up Black women and girls, rather than exploit their characters.

    I just thought it cool that this present film, “Fast Color,” is also written by a woman and stars women, three generations of African Diaspora women. Whether she is an enslaved woman who is then freed, a mother or, here, a stoned superhero in denial, the actress gives compelling and thoughtful performances.

    I had a short but fun interview with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who portrays Ruth in “Fast Color.”

    Good Morning.

    Wanda Sabir: I just want to say that Fast Color is such a phenomenal film – three generations of women with super powers. Oh my gosh.

    So tell me about your Ruth. As an actress growing up in Whitney, England, I am sure there might have been some similarities insofar as not quite fitting in or like being the only Black girl. Talk a little about your character Ruth and what attracted you to her and your cinema family, Lorraine Toussaint as Bo, your mom and your daughter who is so sweet. She has a whole other attitude about her power as she’s been nurtured by her grandmother, Ruth’s mother in a way Ruth has resisted.

    Give us some context.

    Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Yes, this was one thing that appealed to me about the film, myself being an only child, pretty much growing up with my mom, not in a big farm house in Albuquerque (like Ruth, she laughs), but understanding that dynamic of mothers and daughters and how complicated that relationship can be as it evolves as young girls turn into young women and they express their independence and how intense that can be.

    So for me, I thought it was a really refreshing story. I hadn’t seen or read anything before this about three generations of women with these super powers. In talking to Julia Hart, our director, she had said she’d been inspired to write the story after the birth of her first child. This idea, how powerful and creative she felt after the ultimate creation, creating another human being. She wanted to celebrate that in a film. I’d never seen an unconventional super hero who was a mother as well – so many layers there that deal with the female experience.

    WS: Um hum. And the whole idea or metaphor of running and returning and being home and that scene where your character is in the tub with all this water and then her swimming and looking for her baby in the water. There are just so many layers. I hope the film is in the theatre so people have a chance to go see it twice. After that scene I was thinking what does that mean? Submerged in water, water birth, rebirth?

    GMR: I think the idea that Ruth has when she has just had Lila, given the seizures she has, which is how her power manifests. These seizures which then create earthquakes. They created this flood, and she put her baby in danger. I think it was more symbolic; she was afraid of her own power. She hadn’t quite felt grounded in her own power and there was a shame and a fear about standing on her own two feet as a powerful woman.

    WS: So yeah, that was really interesting to me: the idea that Ruth is on the run that we see her sort of trying to get away from these (unidentified) men – male forces. I was more resonating with the idea that Ruth was on the run from herself, on the run from her authentic powerful womanhood. When she actually comes home to her mom, to her daughter and reconnects with the women in her family she is able to align herself much better. She’s centered and she’s able to become the powerful woman that she’s been all along.

    Also, when Ruth returns home, she has an opportunity to be still and learn more about who she is because she is safe. Her mother hands her that book where her ancestors wrote their stories. Wow.

    GMR: There is so much power in stillness. We live in a very fast paced world with Internet and everyone on their phones every five seconds and everyone’s attention span is crumbling. I think it is definitely easier to be busy, to be on the run from your life, to be out there in the wilderness fighting for your life than it is to be actually still and really connect to the people who made you. That’s much more challenging. So yeah.

    WS: Just thinking about the title, “Fast Color.” You automatically want to say, Color Fast, right.

    Gugu laughs.

    WS: You are thinking of dyes that don’t run. The color sticks to the cloth. Ruth asks her daughter, what does it look like, because she can’t see the color. Motion blurs the colors. That’s an interesting scene.

    Ruth with her convulsions makes the earth move. And then her mother – in one scene, she says, she is not afraid of the men who have been tracking her daughter. She is afraid of what she can do. In other words, she has been holding back. And then there is love. Where does a super sister find a mate or a boyfriend? How is she among her peers? Who’s Ruth’s dad?

    Lila is ready to leave. Saniyya Sidney’s Lila is preparing the truck for a getaway. She says she is not about to die in these backwoods. She is so busting out.

    Gugu laughs. This is what is beautiful about the world Julia has created. We are in this recognizable world. There is a drought. Everything is kind of run down. It is very desaturated: a grainy dusty world. But these women, the powers that they have is all you need. I think everyone has a different expression of their power and that is just like life.

    We’re not trying to be a carbon copy of each other. That’s what’s so refreshing about this movie as it related to the superhero genre. It has a very different aesthetic. It’s much more grounded and really it’s not about special effects and weapons – traditionally more masculine expressions of power – it’s about the female power and that we have it within us through these different generations of women.

    So yeah, you’re right.

    WS: I just read that about half the films you’ve been in have been directed by women. I thought that was pretty amazing. I also read that as a woman of African descent that you don’t let the studios hide who you are so that your audience, especially Black girls will recognize themselves in your person on the screen or stage.

    I wonder if you can talk a little bit about that.

    GMR: For me at this point, working with female directors is just normal, it’s not anything exceptional. Like you said, I probably work with more female directors than other artists. They are the ones who have given me the most nuanced characters to work on. It’s intentional on the one hand, but I’d have to say I am material driven as well. It’s about having a meaty character to get my teeth into.

    WS: I was looking at your body of work and you have done a lot both on stage and behind the camera. I didn’t notice – have you been a director yet?

    GMR: I have a lot of mentors and perhaps one day I’ll direct. Hopefully women will come to this film with their mothers and daughters and be inspired by the work.

    Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.

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