Friend Josh told me that there’s a rumor going around that Latinx audiences are the reason for the massive and unprecedented success of the Fast and the Furious franchise. And can I just tell you how nice it is to get blamed for a massive cultural phenomenon that’s actually positive for once?
According to the rumor, the last smart person in Hollywood realized that if you added the guiding principal of family to a movie, you can make as many as you want because the Latinos will show up for it. Add sweet cars, a hot and bossy Chicana, our racially ambiguous brother Vin Diesel, and start nearly every movie in a sweltering Latin town (yes, even Barstow is 42% Hispanic) and you’ve got a pretty healthy reason for Latin Americans to respond to this marketing.
As a proposition, it totally works. White people are frequently baffled by the importance of the family in Latin-American values. Unlike American “family values” where women aren’t allowed to have abortions, but are denied prenatal health services and abandoned by an over-taxed social system, where gay and lesbian children are sent to modern-day death camps by their own parents and kept away from their brothers and sisters by “concerned” moms, we typically do things a little differently. Not necessarily better. I’m not letting my Latinx siblings off the hook. We have some real and serious misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia problems. Make no mistake.
But as Dominic Toretto says: You never turn your back on family.
A gay child of Latin American homophobes is much more likely to be shamed into silence and pretending they just haven’t met the right girl/guy instead of being set free of toxic parents to live life on their own terms like a white child might do.
So, even as our parents vote for homophobic or trans-phobic leaders and policies, at the end of the day we are welcome at the table, no matter what we do on the outside. As hypocritical as that is. Latin culture developed under colonization and is therefore based on navigating scarcity. When resources are hard to get, you can’t afford to kick anybody out.
Which is why the heart of the Fast and the Furious series is so attractive, not just to Latinx people, but to everyone. It wasn’t only us buying $250 million worth of tickets opening weekend.
Everybody dreams of finding a place, a person or a group of people who know what you did, and will fucking die for you anyway. Or the normal suburban mom version of that, whatever it is. And one man in all of cinema is doing that so hard right now. Dominic Toretto is basically car racing Dumbledore but better because of his honesty.
He’s no saint. He’s just a man. Standing in front of a car thief gang turned car vigilante squad, asking them to love him. And they do. So much. That gets illustrated over and over in the series, but is made explicitly clear in The Fate of the Furious. It’s the perfect post-Brian movie. It’s about grief and loss, but also finding your way back home and being taken in even when the winds of an unforgiving world have caused you to go astray.
The cognitive dissonance of the character Brian not being around because his actor, Paul Walker has died would have ruined a lesser family narrative. But because the franchise is really about that at its core, there’s room for redemption even when it looks like they actually have turned their backs on family. We, as the audience know that Brian O’Connor exists forever in the heaven of a summer afternoon spent driving through Malibu with the windows down when there’s no traffic and no cops. But it would still feel too wrong for him to not be there if we didn’t see the results of a franchise that would do some shit like completely change the ending of a movie to be all about saying goodbye their on and off-screen brother.
Or, for example, when several movies got a re-imagined timeline when audiences loved Korean-American cool guy Han, played by Sung Kang, and it was decided that he needed to be in more films despite his characters conspicuous death.
In the end, it’s not just the idea of family that keeps the series popular and vital. It’s that family is the core principal of everything Fast and Furious stands for. We don’t see this brand of family loyalty, trust and love anywhere else on the big screen and while it does have distinctly Latin America flavor, it appeals to everyone.
UPDATE: Yes, I have read about The Rock’s feud with Vin Diesel, and that doesn’t change my assessment. Tios fight. It’s what they do. If this series really is what I think it is, they’ll be back for Fast 9 and they’ll do some bury the hatchet thing that will work until the next time they get shitty with each other.