It’s been awhile since we’ve had a movie or tv review on the blog. In keepin it witchy and weird here’s a Womanist metaphysical analysis of Fast Colors. First let’s get some definitions out of the way.
Although there are various forms of womanism, my post will utilitze Layli Phillips Maparyan’s t of womanism as the central theoretical
/ideological framework. Maparyan, along with other scholars, states that womanism has always existed in some manner or form but has just now begun to be labeled and described (Maparyan). , Alice Walker first used the term womanist in her 1979 short story “Coming Apart
Womanism from Maparyan’s standpoint “is a worldview not just a theory or an ideology; that is it is an overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world” (33). A living, thriving theory, womanism is still developing and constantly being examined from different angles. This is a brief intro to one perspective of womanism but I will share more later.
What a perfect lens to review Fast Colors a movie about a family of black women with extraordinary powers who come to understand that their greatest power comes from family, believing in themselves, and fixing broken things.
The movie opens with a woman sharing that there has not been any rain in 8 years. That we, which I believe to be the world but she may be referring specifically to her family, has known that the reckless ways of man would catch up with us. Now, the wells are dry and her family cannot grow food. This makes it harder for them to stay hidden. The woman wonders how has Ruth survived in this world while being so broken? As she know that if somethings broken it stays broken.
We next see our main character Ruth on the run. We are not sure who is after her, although if she has abilities we can guess it’s someone who wants to find out how she can do what she can. It is not until Ruth is in the hotel, where she paid 26.00 for a half a gallon of water, that we see learn that Ruth has seizures that make the Earth shake. This explains the cuts on her wrists from where she ties herself down to ride out the waves. As the seizure comes on, Ruth quickly dismantles her room placing breakable objects on the ground. This shows that Ruth has had these seizures for quite some time and knows what to do to decrease the amount of damages. Ruth is accustomed to a life of making the best of things with her condition. Like so many of us, she has learned to cope. This has resulted in isolation and lack of roots. After a quick hesitation, she calls the lobby and warns the woman who checked her in to grab her daughter and hide under the counter. Soon after the end of her seizure, there are men searching the hotel looking for Ruth but she is already gone.
Just with this opening there is so much to unpack. We have a woman, who we learn is her mother, worried about her daughter, worried about her own survival in a world that is dying. This is not far from our current reality. We are on the brink of major environmental changes. The temperatures are rising. Pollution of the air, water, and land are a continuous issue. From these problems spring up new issues with contaminated food, water, and air. The very things we need to survive. Although solutions are being suggested and applied, the question of will it be too little too late circulates in our minds as we watch the ice caps melt and the weather become more unpredictable.
Yet, in this film, even with things on the decline, people are surviving much as we always have. There are even diners available to feed those on the road, which is where we find Ruth next. In the diner she has a stunted conversation with a stranger named Bill. Bill buys her coffee and mentions how he misses the taste of real coffee. Upon leaving the diner, the car Ruth stole is being surveyed by police and the man from the diner offers her a ride. It of course is a trap. Bill is a scientist who works for the government and is trying to find out how Ruth is able to cause earthquakes. Ruth and Bill fight in his car with Ruth escaping after shooting him. She makes her way to a convenience store to clean up. As she pours water over her head to remove the blood we get the first glimpse at some of her trauma through quick shots of a pipe bursting and water filling a room.
Ruth makes her way to a bar where she barters cleaning services for food and water. Ruth then spends the night in an old abandoned motel. The next day, Ruth returns to her home, a farmhouse that we find out has been in her family for generations. There is an older woman named Bo, the narrator from the beginning of the movie and a young girl named Lila at the home. We see their loving and lively interaction. The young girl, likes to fix things. She’s repaired the record player and has been working on the truck in the yard.
Bo enjoys Nina Simone’s “There’s a New World Coming” from the repaired record player on the porch while smoking. This song speaks of visions coming true. A new world whose voice is calling to us if we are open to listening.
We look on as Bo disintegrates the cigarette turning it into small particles which look like light and dust. They swirl around only to fall as she is surprised by Ruth saying, “you shouldn’t smoke”. The particles fall but Bo simply looks down at them before pulling the particles back together into a reformed cigarette. Bo is the strong black woman who cares for her family and still attempts to take time for herself, although it may be in ways that are not the healthiest. She is confident in her skills and knows that even if something has come apart it can be put back together if it wasn’t already broken. This shows a bit of shortsightedness. An inability to think beyond what has already been.
Bo and Ruth discuss where Bo has been. Ruth sharing that the seizures are getting worse. That she’s clean and off of drugs. She asks if Lila, her daughter, has abilities. Bo says that they are not like Ruth’s or her’s which she calls parlor tricks. They squabble after a bit and Ruth asks if Bo is going to help her or if they are just going to keep doing the same thing to each other, accidentally pushing her spook out of her bowl. Without a word Bo picks up the spoon and cleans it off for Ruth handing it back. That night Ruth has a seizure waking Bo and Lila, who then learns that her mother has returned.
At breakfast, Ruth mentions that the bowl Lila is using is hers. Ruth broke it when she was younger but couldn’t use her abilities to put it back together. They had to use glue to fix it, because as Lila and Ruth say together, “if something is broken it stays broken”. This seems like a family mantra, almost a curse. Ruth shares the story of how she lost her abilities. When she was younger she too could take things apart but when she did strange things would happen around them with the weather. Bo didn’t know what to do with her abilities. When the seizures started Ruth lost her abilities. She began to use drugs which caused the seizures to stop but cost her her home as she ran away. Bo remarks that she knew the back of Ruth’s head better than she did her face. Ruth states that she hopes that Bo can help her with her abilities and stop the seizures.
Lila shows Ruth her abilities by taking apart the bowl she was eating out of. She is young but talented. The particles of the bowl swirling around as if they are dancing or some type of symphony. We see afterwards that Lila is looking around at “the colors”. An energetic remnant of the work that they have done with their abilities. Ruth has never seen the colors and Bo has not seen them in many years. As Lila shares her experience of the colors Ruth experiences flashbacks of her time with Lila as a baby.
This is roughly about the first half of the film and we’ll stop there. There is so much to unpack here. The focus on generational lineages of blessings and curses. On one hand these women are extremely blessed with abilities that can save the world and yet these same abilities have turned into a curse. A curse that leaves the women feeling trapped, withdrawn, angry, and confused. Just like Ruth, Bo too wanted to be free and see the outside world. Yet, even as she had a taste of freedom she found herself back at the family home to protect her daughter just as her mother tried to protect her.
What lengths do we take for freedom? To live our lives as we choose? Do the costs of these choices outweigh the benefits? We see that just like all the things that can be taken apart are one and connected so are we. Bo, Ruth, and Lila are a thread entangled and hoping to learn what it’s all for. Their love comes not from material things but as a home, protection, guidance, trust, and eventually release.
Outside of this family, we have substantial relationships with other women who impact Ruth’s story. First with the owner of the motel she stays at and later at the bar. Each of these women show us that the difficulties of life are not limited to magical abilities. They include the everyday need for survival. Each of these women are working and caring for themselves and their families. There is a need for strength here with little room to be vulnerable. When we loose vulnerability we lose touch with a bit of our humanity. But this does not happen here. Even with the lack of water and the hardships of the time each other these women are able to be kind and show some compassion towards Ruth which they receive back in turn. We see that we can be strong and still care. It shows the complexity of women of color as more then oversexualized tropes. In fact there was little overt sexuality in this story outside of Bo and Ellis, Ruth’s father. This is a story about relationships between humans, the environment, and the soul.
I’ll finish up the review next month and delve into the metaphysical aspects, Bo and Ellis’s relationship, and the power to take apart the sky.