Michelle Rodriguez kicked off a firestorm last week by promising a fast and furious exit from the series she’s been part of for the past 16 years–if the next entry doesn’t “show some love to the women of the franchise.”
The actor who plays core character Letty Ortiz telegraphed her potential goodbye on Instagram the day The Fate of the Furious hit home media. That film’s director, F. Gary Gray, then responded defensively on Monday, explaining that, while he’s new to the franchise, he “thought there was a strong representation of women in the movie,” citing the fact that Charlize Theron plays the villain, and Dame Helen Mirren has a much-publicized cameo. Franchise star Vin Diesel, meanwhile, was a little more open to Rodriguez’s critique, agreeing that, while he’s proud of the franchise, “We must try to reach higher each time,” adding that “the challenge is what makes it fun and exciting.”
F8 is out digitally today, 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. It's been a good ride & Im grateful for the opportunity the fans & studio have provided over the years… One Love ????????❤️????????????✨????????????
While Fast Company is loathe to position ourselves as end-all be-all arbiters of something as pernicious as sexism in blockbuster entertainment, we did find the time to go through the franchise to find some more specific examples of what Rodriguez might have been talking about.
There are a lot of things that might frustrate a woman who cares not just about having female characters represented on screen (there are a lot of women in these movies), but having them represented in a way that, as Rodriguez put it, shows love to them. Every film in the series has at least one, often many more, scenes that involve cameras lingering over the butts and boobs of various women—often with, like, their heads cut out of the frame, as they bend over into impractical positions to buff the hoods of various cars that the dudes in the film will drive. (Sometimes they’re painted gold!)
Women serving mostly as objects to ogle while the men get to do the exciting things isn’t a problem that’s limited to the Fast & Furious films, but it’s definitely a factor in this franchise even after eight films. The franchise is lauded for its diversity—of the twelve heroes who’ve formed the core team of lovable car-racing rogues in the series, only three (Paul Walker, Kurt Russell, and Scott Eastwood) have been white men. That’s a smaller number than the number of women on the team, with Rodriguez leading a roster that included Jordana Brewster (until Walker’s death, as their characters were married) and Gal Gadot, as well as current series star Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays computer expert Ramsey. Still, though, Rodriguez’s point about gender is well-taken when you consider that it still means that the men outnumber the women two to one. (These numbers ignore the secondary characters, as well as Minka Kelly’s star making turn as “Girl” in the 2 Fast 2 Furious prelude short film, but the ratio stays the same in either case.)
Gray’s point about Charlize Theron is also worth considering, but she’s the first female lead villain that the series has had in eight films, so it’s not necessarily time for the series to pat itself on the back. The series has done a good job of casting women in supplemental villain roles, and giving them interesting things to do—Gina Carano’s turn in Fast & Furious 6 as the DSS agent who betrays the team is one of the more interesting in the series, and Ronda Rousey leads a team of interesting hijab-wearing security personnel in Furious 7.
Still, it’s hard to argue with Rodriguez’s larger point about the series. She’s built her career on playing tough women, but until Fate of the Furious, Letty hasn’t had as much to do as the characters she’s played in even dubious series like Resident Evil and Machete. She’s also been the victim of “fridging,” in which female characters are killed (on- or off-screen) as a way to further motivate the story’s male heroes. (Letty died in the fourth Fast & Furious installment, then came back with amnesia—it was a whole thing.) That’s a fate that was suffered by Gal Gadot’s Gisele, as well, and Elsa Pataky’s Elena in subsequent films. Nathalie Emmanuel, presumably, reads each script with trepidation—so far, only she and Brewster have made it out of this franchise without being killed to further a man’s story.
All of this stuff is common in action movies, of course, but it really is something that—when you combine it with the visual of disembodied boobs and butts being lingered over lovingly before setting up a car race or an action sequence—does make things seem kind of unfriendly to women who want to watch without feeling like the series is explicitly not for them. That aspect of the franchise might be shifting under Gray’s direction—Fate of the Furious only had one butts-n-boobs sequence, compared to Furious 7‘s three or Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift‘s four—but it’s fair for Rodriguez to object, given the history of the series. And given that her ability to affect change is limited mostly by threatening to withhold her participation in future films if she and Ramsey don’t get to play parts more integral to the plot, if more women don’t end up on the team overall (would it have killed them to cast a lady instead of friggin’ Scott Eastwood?), and if the camera’s maybe 40% less objectifying in the ninth and tenth installments, we’ll see what happens to Letty next time out.