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15 Years Ago, 'The Fast And The Furious' Proved 'Diversity' Works

The series has always been about presenting fully-realized characters of all races.
The late Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Tyrese Gibson -- three of the main stars of the "Fast and the Furious" movie franchise.
The late Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Tyrese Gibson -- three of the main stars of the "Fast and the Furious" movie franchise. 

There's a scene in that last "The Fast and the Furious" movie, "Furious 7," where Vin Diesel's character drives a car through the window of a high-rise building. For a few brief, glorious moments, the car sails through the air, glinting in the sun, just before it goes crashing through the window and onto the empty floor of another high-rise that's literally hundreds of feet across from the first one. 

Welcome to the world of "The Fast and the Furious" franchise, a hot, campy mess where nothing actually makes sense but it's OK because everything is so damn entertaining. And yet, while there's very little that resembles actual reality (and physics), one aspect of the series has always remained profoundly real: its characters. 

With stars like Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Dwayne Johnson and the late Paul Walker, something the franchise has always gotten right, effortlessly, is an ensemble that reflects the real people who make up New York and Los Angeles's underground street racing scenes, and most major cities in the United States in general. Not everyone is white. 

The original "The Fast and the Furious" movie, which debuted 15 years ago on June 22, had all the hallmarks of what has been so commended in the latest installment. A young Paul Walker, playing the undercover cop Brian O'Conner, is positioned as the audience's surrogate, this noble white man sent into the "hood" to stop black and brown folks (specifically, Vin Diesel's character Dom) for doing bad, until he gets wrapped up in the world of street racing himself. 

This first film has many faults, but refreshingly, it didn't go too far into the "Dances with Wolves" scenario. The dialogue is campy, but Dom and his crew are not complete stereotypes or caricatures. They aren't romanticized, either. For as much as the spotty script could allow, they are relatively fully-realized characters, who we get to see and judge outside of just the white lead's perspective. Major key. 

Last year, when "Furious 7" was released, much of the focus was on two things. One, obviously, was star Paul Walker's untimely passing, and the ways in which his final appearance in the series would be handled. The other focus was diversity. The movie opened with $384 million worldwide and $143.6 domestically, making it, at that time, the biggest domestic debut since "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and the fourth biggest global movie debut of all time

Suddenly, with the realization that a film with more black and Latino leads than white ones could do this well at the box office, a film with a 75 percent non-white audience, Hollywood analysts began to take notice. In reality, though, we should have been paying attention all along. "Furious 7" may have been a highlight for the franchise, but what's most impressive is the franchise has managed to produce 7 movies, spanning over a decade, that have all found success at the box office. 

"Furious 7" was a deeply entertaining (if all-over-the-place), lovely farewell to one of the franchise's original stars, Paul Walker. But with Walker gone, the franchise doesn't end -- "Fast 8" is already in production, with Vin Diesel and much of the old cast set to star (Diesel is also producing). What this says is that, when we talk about "diversity," we're not just asking for a few token characters, nor are we only asking for prestige movies that are vying for Oscars. Truly "diverse" movies don't have to find a way to be "relatable" only to white audiences. And most of all, they don't have to be one-offs, they have actual potential for longevity.

And longevity, as we've seen in the case of the "The Fast and the Furious" movies, means sparking a real conversation about inclusion in Hollywood and, thus, change. 

 

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