How a Multiracial Cast Lead to "Fast and Furious 7's" Success

On May 27, 2013 I submitted an op-ed to the New York Times arguing the "Fast & Furious" is a major coup for ethnic audiences like Latinos, African-Americans and Asians because it depicts them as humans instead of stereotypes.

The movies characters get mad because their loved ones are threatened, they fall in love because their personalities complement another and they team up because their stronger together - not because of race or ethnicity.

It didn't get published and I felt a little silly about it until a few weeks later, when I stumbled upon an article about Michelle Rodriguez, star of the franchise, answering questions on Quora (What's It Like To Be A Female Movie Star? | Slate).

Q: Why are the Fast and Furious movies so entertaining?

A: I feel that the success of the Fast and Furious franchise has a lot to do with globalization (its multicultural cast); its timing, with a launch at the birth of a the new millennium; and a rare, innovative storytelling style. It took a new look at street racing and Latino, black, Asian, and caucasian camaraderie and exposed the melting pot that is the new world. The chemistry of the cast built the loyal fan base, and the fact that these characters live by their own code and answer to no one but one another creates a herolike admiration for a multicultural audience that usually has no heroes in Hollywood to relate to. The Fast and Furious franchise is an underdog giant in Hollywood, and I hope it paves a road for many multicultural, big-budget, quality productions in the future. The world's majority is Hollywood's minority, and when that changes as the standard modus operandi, that's when I believe blockbusters will reach a whole new global fan-base quota never really met before outside of Avatar and Titanic.

Tuesday, Sept. 15, the is release date for the dvd release of the seventh film. Watching that movie, felt a lot like reading the last Harry Potter book. Because of Paul Walker's death, I knew the franchise (as we know it) was over. The screen writers have shown themselves to be talented by resurrecting the once dead movies. However, this is feels different.

I grew up watching Paul Walker's character. And because I didn't meet 'Brian O'Conner' through words on a page, his story arc ended when Walker passed. To celebrate, here's my 5/27/13 argument on why I think the success of "Fast & Furious" franchise is owed to its multicultural cast (rerun from my bilingual blog Mismore). It's edited to include my present day thoughts on why I think the 'Fast and Furious' movies are the greatest films of our time.:

History will not remember "The Fast and The Furious" as a work of art, but it will be the pioneering franchise that allowed a multiracial cast, predominately Latinos, to take center stage as full-fledged characters and not as caricatures of themselves - pillaging the box office in the process.

Big businesses have a problem marketing towards the elusive Latino population because they try to lump people with different cultures, traditions and dialects together. As a Mexican-born immigrant, raised in Chicago who speaks English and Spanish, I fall in the same category as a friend born in Chicago to one American, one Mexican parent who only speaks English. How does this make sense?

"Fast and Furious 6" is projected to rake in $122 million over the weekend (Fast & Furious 6 earned $238,679,850 in North America and $550,000,000 elsewhere for a worldwide total of $788,679,850.[4] Worldwide, it is the forty-fourth highest-grossing film, the third highest-grossing 2013 film[63][64] and the fourth highest-grossing Universal film.[65] ) financial proof of how a variety of nationalities that feed into the 'Latino' label but would be better suited under a 'multiracial' or 'bicultured' moniker, are becoming mainstream.

The future of Latino marketing will be successful if it can see past the finish line and realize the new era of Latinos isn't Latino at all. Its a blend of immigrants, their children -- Spanish speaking or not -- and the people who have fallen in love with the culture and language through study abroad, a childhood friend or a lover; to create the children of the post racial elite.

'Why don't more films reflect the tidal wave of Latinos crashing over the United States?' The success of the Fast franchise may be owed to the fact that it never labeled itself as such. Instead, choosing fast cars, beautiful people and exotic locations to speak to a wide margin of audience members -- using the bicultured cast as a vehicle.

[caption id="attachment_1310" align="alignnone" width="625"]
Spanish beauty Elsa Pataky showing Latinas can be blonde and blue-eyed.[/caption]

It took time for the franchise to find its niche. By outgrowing its obsession with street races and Asian culture, and focusing instead on the its bicultured cast and its reflection of present day America, the franchise evolved from niche fetish to blockbuster.

Corporate execs hoping to capitalize on the purchasing power of Latinos, should do so without typecasting (Spanish speaking, dark hair, eyes and skin), and should look to their stars to forge those connections.

Will Smith's promotion of "After Earth," a sci-fi thriller out nationwide May 31, on Univision created a dual sense of pride. As an American, I was impressed by Mr. Smith's agility in weaving together sentences in Spanish that were coherent and punctuated with a strong emphasis of each letter. As a Mexican, I felt a sense of triumph to know Univision was now deemed important enough to command the attention of a superstar. A moment appreciated the most - by people who flow fluidly between both worlds.

A person with Mr. Smith's magnitude, makes it 'cool', mainstream and important to speak the language. Mr. Smith's embracing the language acts to combat the ignorance associated with assimilation-and make no mistake, it is ignorance that leads a person to reject their culture and view their heritage as an embarrassment that needs to be forgotten. What happens next is worse. Their children carry physical characteristics, and none of the sustenance. Making them ill-equipped to fit in one world and wander aimlessly through both. Leaving them frustrated and at a disadvantage now that the world is facing globalization.

Public figures like Mr. Smith who struggle to be understood in a world different from theirs, create a gateway between two cultures. The Latinos struggling to learn English, can be soothed by knowing that they're not the only ones trying to flourish in a new environment.

Of course, there will be those who reject this new order. Mr. Smith only needs to turn to his right and see his son, Jaden, 14, acting indifferent to know that without the buy-in of these mainstream figures, there is no evolution from the generic Latino, to someone who is multicultured.

The 'Fast' movies have yet to take home Oscar-gold, but the franchise should be lauded for understanding America's evolution into a multiracial society that did not succumb to gimmicks. You only need to look at the fifth installment - when someone is speaking Spanish, it's Paul Walker's character that understands what's being said. Michelle Rodriguez's character never goes off in Spanish when emotions were running high (despite what stereotypes would have you believe about 'fiery' and 'spicy' Latinas). And Han's character shatters all Asian man stereotypes, and ends up being the heart of the franchise.

Bottom line - we need more movies with a multiracial cast, like the Fast franchise. Don't believe me or this it's worth? Just look at the financials. Movie execs, take note.