‘Fast X’ stars call fight for female characters ‘frustrating’

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With more than $6 billion in global box office counted and countless rules of physics wantonly violated onscreen, there’s one limit the 22-year-old “Fast & Furious” franchise hasn’t yet dared shatter: Audiences are still waiting for women to take charge in their own “Fast” vehicle.

After 10 testosterone-fueled features films, some of its longest-tenured franchise stars are too.

“What I’ve been fighting the most for is to not be in the babysitting seat, because that’s what’s frustrating,” Jordana Brewster said ahead of the worldwide release of “Fast X” on Friday. “I want to play with more comedy. I want to play with more action. I want to play with unleashing energy. There’s so much at stake in these movies that I want to play more of a central role in it.”

Brewster originated the role of Mia Toretto in 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” reprised it in several sequels and briefly saw action in the 10th film, playing protector to brother Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) young son, Little Brian. But every “Fast” so far — including 2019’s Dwayne Johnson–Jason Statham spin-off “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” and the animated series “Fast & Furious Spy Racers” — has been led by Dom or his various brothers-in-musclebound arms.

Although women have been part of each ensemble, a dedicated spin-off could “give us the opportunity to flesh out all the female characters,” said Brewster. “And I think it’s something an audience would like.”

Newcomer Elle (Anna Sawai, left) joined Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) on a mission in 2021’s “F9.”

(Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures)

A March report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that women accounted for 38% of main characters and 37% of all speaking roles in the top 100 domestic movie releases of 2022, marginally up from the previous year. Only 10% of action films featured female protagonists.

But women have been instrumental in elevating the “Fast” franchise to unprecedented heights, making up a reported near-half of moviegoers on “Furious 7,” the first “Fast” picture to cross the billion-dollar mark in theaters. (The film’s audience was also 75% nonwhite.)

Fellow original cast member Michelle Rodriguez has been the star most vocal in her criticism of the franchise’s depiction of women, dating back to the initial script’s depiction of her streetwise character Letty. Rodriguez’s pushback transformed the character from Dom’s “trophy girlfriend” to “this really layered character,” Brewster revealed in a 2021 EW oral history, in an era when the “Fast & Furious” films were far from the only Hollywood fare dominated by the male gaze.

“In order to keep it real, I had to school them,” Rodriguez told EW. “‘I know you guys like Hollywood and all that, but if you want it to be realistic, this is how it really works, and I’m not going to be a slut in front of millions of people, so you’re going to lose me if you don’t change this.”

Michelle Rodriguez rides a motorcycle in a scene from "F9" a.k.a. "Fast & Furious 9."

Michelle Rodriguez as Letty in “F9” (2021). Rodriguez originated the role in 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” and appears in this week’s “Fast X.”

(Giles Keyte / Universal Pictures)

Protective of the character, Rodriguez initially refused to come back after the first film, just to be killed off in the fourth, 2009’s “Fast & Furious.” “I was like, ‘No. I’ll take some pictures. I’m not going to be in a movie where you’re killing a character who’s beloved,’” she told The Times this month. “You don’t have any other real kick-ass females. Aside from Jordana, you’re not really representing women at all. And I was like, ‘You want to kill her, dude?’”

Rodriguez credits Diesel for backing her behind-the-scenes fight for Letty’s second return in one of “Fast”s seminal big-swing twists: The “Fast Five” credits tag that revealed Letty was still alive but suffering amnesia. Letty went on to become one of the series’ most important characters and thrilling fighters.

In a 2017 Instagram post promoting the eighth film, “Fate of the Furious,” Rodriguez again threatened to walk if the franchise didn’t do better by its female characters. “I hope they decide to show some love to the women of the franchise on the next one. Or I just might have to say goodbye to a loved franchise,” she wrote.

“All those fights with the studio about having a female voice and having a character that really represents the true grit of a street kid, a woman — all those fights really paid off,” Rodriguez says now. “Because I honestly feel like if I would have just agreed to do what I was told to do, I don’t think Letty would be here today. And I think that all those arguments I had about integrity really mattered in the end.”

The series barely passed the Bechdel test until 2021’s Justin Lin-directed “F9,” in which Letty and Mia have a chat over a meal during a mission — a first that happened after Rodriguez pointed out that the sisters-in-law and childhood acquaintances had never shared a meaningful scene together onscreen. Theirs is a history Brewster would like to keep mining as the franchise wraps up its main series films.

“I would love to explore the relationship with Letty because that little bit in [‘F9’] was not enough,” she said, noting that Mia’s children with Brian, played by the late Paul Walker, are now canonically teens. “I’d like to see Mia harness [her] strength when someone crosses her family. Because that’s what’s really interesting about Mama Bear energy — mess with my children and you’re going to see what happens.”

Charlize Theron at the "Fast X" premiere

Charlize Theron, who joined the Universal franchise as cyber-villain Cipher in “Fate of the Furious” and returns in “Fast X,” poses for photographers upon arrival at the world premiere of the tenth film in Rome.

(Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Four years ago, the prospect of a bigger showcase for the women of the “Fast” universe got a Vin-size boost when the producer-star announced that a female-driven installment was in development, hinting that it would be written by genre scribes Nicole Perlman, Lindsey Beer and Geneva Robertson-Dworet. “Welcome to the Fast FAMILY,” he wrote, congratulating them on Instagram.

Later that year, the first “Fast” spin-off, “Hobbs & Shaw,” would draw mostly positive reviews and a $760-million global box office.

But making things Diesel-official didn’t necessarily equate to a studio green light.

Although studio head Donna Langley told Business Insider last year that she would “love to see a female ‘Fast,’” citing the “great and amazing female characters” and the addition of Marvel star Brie Larson to “Fast X,” Universal has yet to announce that such a film is in the works. A spinoff reportedly being written around series villain Cipher (Charlize Theron) has also not been officially announced.

Several prominent female characters have recurred in the “Fast” universe’s extended family of heroes, love interests, enemies, frenemies and allies over the course of the franchise, including intelligence operative Gisele (Gal Gadot), expert hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Rio lawwoman Elena (Elsa Pataky), federal agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) and criminal matriarch Queenie Shaw (Helen Mirren).

Others have popped up once each in the franchise’s two decades but have left enough of a lasting impression on fans to return, like “2 Fast 2 Furious’” Suki (Devon Aoki), “Tokyo Drift’s” Neela ( Nathalie Kelley), “Hobbs & Shaw’s” Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) and Madame M (Eiza González), Han’s ward Elle (Anna Sawai) and “Fast X” additions Isabel (Daniela Melchior) and Abuela Toretto (Rita Moreno).

Speaking with The Times this month, Universal Pictures President Peter Cramer asserted that the studio is still interested in an female-led “Fast.” (“Birds of Prey‘s” Christina Hodson is poised to become the franchise’s first credited female screenwriter with the upcoming 11th film, to be co-written with Oren Uziel.)

“We’d still like to do it. We think it’s a terrific idea that will be on pause a little bit because of the writers’ strike,” said Cramer. “But it’s something that we continue to be interested in. We just have to figure out the right way to do it.”

As for Brewster’s vision of a femme “Fast” spin-off? Leave the boys at home. Contain it on a smaller scale with slightly less world-ending stakes than the bombastic, globe-trotting core films. To fans, she says: “Keep fighting for it.”

“It would be really fun to explore,” she said. “And it could be totally independent of the guys.”

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