With the release of its eighth chapter this week - and the promise of two more films in a new trilogy - the Fast & The Furious franchise has become globally successful with its simple promise of cars, thrills, action, attractive people to look at, and plots that move at 100 miles per hour. It does this while naturally becoming our most racially diverse saga, complete with male/female equality despite filling its tank with gallons of testosterone. Yet, while spending sixteen years dreaming up new death-defying stunts and exotic locales to throw Dom and the fam into, can the team behind this saga dream up its greatest feat of all: a fresh and cohesive LGBTQ character?
As a gay man, the F&F films have always had a special place in my heart as both glossy, thrilling popcorn flicks and grand examples of the ol’ Gay Subtext 101 that often runs like a river through many a high octane genre film - for action films I’ll only call out Top Gun, Point Break, and Bad Boys to the top of that heap, all three wonderfully outed in Hot Fuzz’s own spin on the meta-storyline - which focus on complicated guys who discover “feelings” for other men while on a path of “partnering” amid do-or-die one-upmanship. Feelings that make them shoot guns, drive fast and punch things in an effort to process.
Movie watching is about identification with the characters you encounter on screen and when you’re gay you tend to scour films for any sign of yourself even if the plot at hand is strictly hetero, and that’s where F&F first grabbed my, and lots of gay men’s attention. In the first film we’re introduced to the late, great Paul Walker’s Brian as he visits a small cafe to eat awful tuna sandwiches and seemingly burn the words “Hot Daddy” into the back of Vin Diesel’s Dom and his smooth, muscular neck. Yes, he’s scoping the man out on an undercover police mission but coming off thirsty as hell.
This scene in the cafe is even punctuated by the word “faggot” - the first words spoken between two men in the entire film, in fact - when Dom’s right hand man notices Brian’s suspicious presence. And as a gay man, I’ve felt that situation many a time before, waiting for my stares to be called out, sending me running, hoping to have the chance to get closer to the object of my affection and not have my cover blown, hoping to impress with my driving skills. Hoping to be invited to the barbeque. Hoping to be part of the family.
In that onscreen family F&F has found one of its many strengths with its easy, breezy ability to create a racially diverse universe for the film, where a person - be it a man or a woman - of every color and ethnicity could see themselves represented on screen and be invited to that party. Yet as important as that diversity has become, fans from the LGBTQ spectrum still don’t see themselves onscreen in this universe and are left having to imagine ourselves quietly in an obvious, but never spoken about, secret storyline.
Yet the subtextual “romance” between Dom and Brian in that first chapter didn’t just end when the credits rolled, like some kind of NOS-scented Casablanca, it found a way to maintain a balance over the course of six more films, albeit kept to the backseat if not even the trunk - minus Tokyo Drift which eschewed that subtext to begin expanding racial diversity - before the whole queer subtext came to a screeching and tragic end due to the real life death of Walker in 2013.
Brian’s “retirement” at the finale of Furious 7 was an amazing tribute to the actor who was the identifying character for so many people, myself included. Brian would never look again at Dom like he hung the moon and Dom would never feel… whatever it was he thought but couldn’t say when he realized how much Brian changed his life by sneaking into it. Driving off into the sunset marked the end of the facade. But as we mourned a lost soul in real life we also mourned the loss of that connection to a world that we’d gotten used to being secretly a part of, even if we weren’t allowed to hold hands with our boyfriends in it.
This door closing in F&F actually opens up the closet door wide enough to provide a great opportunity for the saga to finally turn subtext into text for its many gay fans and do something extraordinary as a global Hollywood juggernaut with an impressive reach.
The trumpeted (we heard you, gurl) recent announcements that Beauty And The Beast and Power Rangers were going to roll out gay moments and characters kinda soured what should have been awesome reveals all on their own. Gay characters should fold naturally into the narrative just as actual queer people walk into real life every day.
Josh Gad’s Lefou and Becky G’s Yellow Ranger having gay storylines is a great step forward in modern storytelling, and an important identification in films aimed at younger audiences to see themselves in, but an LGBTQ character seamlessly woven into the F&F universe would send a much bigger message to the world that gay people are not invisible and are just as capable of driving Ferraris through three descending buildings in Dubai as the next guy (or gal) is.
Some may ask, “But why do we have to know they’re gay? I’m here for the stunts and action!” and that’s an understandable question. But you wouldn’t be ready to plunk down your money for an eighth film if you hadn’t become invested over time in the heterosexual relationships in the series. Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), every bikinied booty that we as viewers catch Tyrese and Ludacris glancing at. You’ve gotten to know something personal and intimate about these characters and that’s important in making these films about more than just speedometers and crashes, they’re snapshots of our times and times keep changing.
Gay characters, hopefully played by gay actors, deserve to be acknowledged in this crazy, fantasy world where physics don’t always seem to apply but trust, respect, teamwork and love is the oil that really keeps this franchise’s engine running. A massive team of minds able to safely parachute cars out of a plane should be able to make room at the table for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters without shoehorning, stunting or jumping the shark to this magical world.
Fun fact: if Fate director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton) continues on with F&F in a new trilogy, he’s already got the chops for gay storylines. His underrated 1996 action film Set It Off featured a milestone gay character in Queen Latifah’s Cleo, a tough, unapologetic lesbian member of that film’s female bank robbery quartet who went against the prescribed “male fantasy” of lesbians and introduced that reality to predominantly black audiences. Cleo may go out in a hail of bullets in the end but it’s not as punishment for being lesbian, just the end result of the story. Hell, while we’re dreaming let’s find a way to resurrect Cleo and bring her into the F&F universe. She’d fit like a squeaky leather driving glove!
But how does a gay man - seemingly the antithesis to this testosterone overdrive of films, unless you’ve been paying attention to the subtext this whole time - walk into this world and become part of the family? Well, there exists a nice batch of “out” actors whose good looks and style are just right for F&F’s hot, rough and tumble garage: Matt Bomer, Wentworth Miller, Zachary Quinto, Russell Tovey, and Colton Haynes could smolder in close-ups as they downshift and figure how to leapfrog their car onto a moving train while their boyfriend tries to take out an approaching helicopter wielding a rocket launcher.
Does that scenario sound achievable? Absolutely! Nothing in that sentence seems impossible in the F&F world. While we’re at it, let’s really push the boundaries and cast a transgender actor in a trans role. Finding a place for Laverne Cox, Angelica Ross, Mya Taylor, Candis Cayne, or Trace Lysette would not only build up the female ranks of the series but Tyrese needs a formidable, capable and scorching lady to fish him out of dangerous situation and be on his arm in some Vegas casino just before forty motocross bikers bust in to get away with millions of dollars and bike up and over the Luxor hotel. In fact, Tyrese and Laverne Cox could be the sweetest, sassiest action couple this side of a Thin Man reboot. I’m getting teary just thinking about the possibilities.
A trans character dating a straight series regular would not only provide visibility but lay out the conversation that being transgender does not implicitly mean you are gay, a misconception a platform like F&F could do wonders in advocating.
Bottom line, if there is one cinematic universe that can bend space and time and afford the creativity needed to develop beloved new characters with a queer slant, it’s our beloved Fast & Furious gang. When you have the eyes of the world on you, the people you present as your family and closest allies speak volumes about who we, as human beings, put in the same places in our reality. Years of subtext has kept this engine revving, it’s time to step on the gas and move in a new direction.