SXSW Exclusive: Black Girl Magic: Fast Color (2018)

While bombastic effects-laden superhero movies are enjoying what seems to be endless popularity, there is a lack of quieter, more character-driven stories. Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) has crafted a fantastic low-fi science fiction film that features three strong women who are trying to find their place in a world that both fears them and requires the powers that they wield.

Fast Color (2018) follows Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman who is on the run due to her uncontrollable superpowers. She has seizures and every time one occurs it causes an earthquake in her vicinity. The film takes place in a near future where there has been a lack of rainfall for a decade and water is scarce and expensive. Crops have been dying and the population is spread out and waning. Ruth garners the attention of a group of scientists due to her powers, and in an attempt to hide from them, returns to the house she grew up in although she has been estranged from her family for years.

The household is overseen by a strong matriarch named Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and she watches over a young girl called Lila (Saniyya Sidney). Bo, like all the women in her family, possesses special powers, in this case the ability to break apart objects into swirling particles and then put them back together again. She calls it "parlor tricks" while casually twirling a deconstructed cigarette around her fingers only to suddenly solidify it to take a drag. Lila also has inherited this ability (which she calls "seeing the colors") though she is still learning to control it. At one point, frustrated by having to hide all her life Lila exclaims "Well, what the fuck are our powers good for?" They are afraid to come out in the public because of possible condemnation which is a poignant parallel with current race relations. What sounds more frightening to the world at large than black women with magical abilities?

Michael Fimognari’s gorgeous cinematography is one of the highlights of the film as he imbues everything with this lovely pastel hue that evokes a feeling of calm and familiarity. The subdued color palette also makes the film feel grounded even with its jaunts into magical realism. Rob Simonson's buzzing synth score is the perfect accompaniment to the story, ebbing in the background during the quieter scenes then erupting into passionate swells during the intense moments.

This film feels like a stripped down X-Men origin story and the slower pacing might turn some viewers off. It takes awhile for the narration to solidify and some of the supporting characters are underwritten, but the overall theme of empowerment is delicately reinforced by the three female leads. Superhero tales don't always have to be giant stories, they can also encompass smaller, more intimate themes to the same effect. There is room for black superhero films with the scope and huge budget of Black Panther (2018) and smaller, more insular films like Fast Color.

--Michelle Kisner