When filmmaker Julia Hart walked on stage Saturday at the Paramount Theatre to introduce her sophomore feature, Fast Color, at the SXSW festival, she was the embodiment of female empowerment circa 2018: distinctly pregnant and explaining that the film’s inspiration sprang from the birth of her first child, three years ago.
“I didn’t decide I could direct a movie until I became a mother,” said Hart, who began her career in Hollywood as a screenwriter. “It was the most powerful I’d ever felt and it made me feel that I could direct. And that then made me aware of the fact that all mothers are superheroes, and I’d never seen a movie where an actual mother was a superhero.”
Fast Color tells the story of three generations of women struggling to harness their super powers in a post-apocalyptic society where water is scarce and society is dying. The film—co-written by Hart’s husband, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz—stars Gugu Mbatha Raw in the lead role of Ruth, with Lorraine Toussaint playing her mother and Fences actress Saniyya Sidney portraying her daughter. The immediate online response to the film was positive, with audiences lauding the performances, the visuals, and the earnest take on Black Girl Magic. Many compared the film to Logan, calling it the Storm solo X-Men movie we’ve never seen.
The movie also garnered a special endorsement from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, who chose to moderate its post-screening Q&A: “I was not expecting this myth-making, origin story of black super women and their powers,” said the filmmaker, who was most interested in how Fast Color came together, from Hart’s initial idea onward.
“The story began with this broken superhero on the run and the idea that the place where she would restore her powers would be home,” said Hart. “We loved that [her healing] would stem from her mother and the past and her daughter and the future.”
Raw, in an earlier interview with Vanity Fair, echoed that sentiment, “I loved the fact that it was unexpected, that [the film] continues where a lot of stories end, when you reach home. For my character Ruth, when she gets home the story only gets deeper and more complex.”
Jenkins compared the dynamic between Raw’s character and Sidney’s character to the relationship between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in Rocky III. In light of Black Panther reaching the $1 billion mark over the weekend, he had to reference it as a possible forefather to this film’s future success.
“There are superhero movies before Black Panther and superhero movies after Black Panther,” said Hart, to laughs. “I’ll talk about the superhero movies before Black Panther, which are usually about white men destroying things in order to save them. When we thought of mom as the superhero, we thought female power should be about creation.”
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Those concepts of creation and representation seemed to resonate profoundly with the audience at SXSW. Said one audience member before asking a question: “As a black woman, watching this film was incredible. This is what lifting up people as somebody in a position of power looks like.”
She went on to ask about how black history, specifically the commodification of black bodies, influenced the plot of Fast Color, specifically the fact that these women are running away and hiding from people who want to dissect them and study them.
“It didn’t start out as that,” admitted Hart, who is still looking for distribution for the film. “It began as a story of female empowerment and women, of all colors, being commodified and subjugated and repressed by men. But then in casting Gugu, Saaniya and Lorraine, it became about something much bigger than me, which is about women of color. It was a privilege for me as a white woman to step back and allow these incredible actresses to tell their story through a story we had started, but which became much bigger than us.”
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Nicole SperlingNicole Sperling is a Hollywood Correspondent for Vanity Fair.