'Fast Color' Filmmaker Slams Hollywood's "Lip Service" to Diversity, Inclusion

The studio's Codeblack drama, about a trio of black women who discover they have unexplainable powers, has played in only 25 theaters: "When it got to the white male gatekeeper, they said, 'I don't know who this movie is for.'"
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Julia Hart

Filmmaker Julia Hart expressed her gratitude to everyone inside Theatre 5 at Laemmle Glendale following an April 28 matinee showing of her film Fast Color starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who was seated next to her. Then she paused, took a deep breath and readied to get — in her words — "real real."

“There is so much lip service in this industry about wanting women to tell stories, wanting people of color to tell stories, wanting to tell stories about women and people of color,” said Hart, who directed the film and co-wrote it with her Oscar-nominated producer husband Jordan Horowitz, with whom she collaborates through their production company. “There wasn’t a single [print] ad for this movie anywhere, and it’s a beautiful freakin’ poster with this beautiful woman’s face on it.”

The film, which casts three black actresses (Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint and Saniyya Sidney) at the center of the story about a family coming to terms with superhuman powers, was distributed by Lionsgate’s Codeblack label. Hart praised those companies for taking a chance on her film and expressed disappointment with the ones that did not.

“There were women and people of color at every company that loved the movie — some men and some white men,” said Hart, who premiered the film at SXSW in 2018. “At the end of the day, when it got to the white male gatekeeper — time and time again — they said, ‘I don’t know who this movie is for. I don’t know how to market it.’ We need to keep buying tickets to these movies. We need to keep making these movies, and we need to prove them wrong because they’re wrong and they’re dinosaurs. That’s not fair to dinosaurs. We have a lot of incredible storytellers right now who are telling these stories — women and people of color — the problem is the gatekeepers all look alike and we need to change that.”

The film was released in 25 theaters and so far has grossed a paltry $68,373 as of May 7, a striking figure compared to those other superheroes currently onscreen across the globe. Avengers: Endgame which has grossed $2.2 billion since it opened two weeks ago, and while that film wasn’t mentioned by name during the Q&A (moderated by freelance journalist Yolanda Machado), it was clearly in the air. 

“I’m not anti any genre of movie,” Mbatha-Raw noted. “People should have choices and people should have representation. People should at least know about films.” And while very few do, that doesn’t mean there aren’t more stories to be told about this family of women, Mbatha-Raw teased. “This isn’t the end of the life for Fast Color at all. Watch this space; there will be many other opportunities to see this world and to see this story.”

Speaking of stories, Hart praised The Black List founder Franklin Leonard for being "one of the greatest gifts" to Hollywood because of his organization, which gives fledgling screenwriters a platform for their work. "It’s a real honest way to [get] agents and managers to read your script, and a lot of scripts have gotten made [and] a lot of people have broken into the industry because of him and because of The Black List," she said.

Machado asked both Hart and Mbatha-Raw for their perspective on a memorable line from the film, which calls for one of the central characters to "take apart the sky."  

"I always interpreted it as … create the world that you want to see," Mbatha-Raw said. "The sky, to me, always represented the conventional culture or the status quo so … it was always about dismantling the status quo and creating a world you could feel empowered in."

A version of this story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.