Quarter Mile at a Time: Fast and Furious and Masculinity

Dudefluencer: Fast and Furious

If I had to make a list of the most essential things in life, I’d obviously start with my wife and then probably the entire Fast and Furious franchise. That includes Hobbs and Shaw. Rounding out the list is probably family, pets, and uhhh…pizza? What I am trying to say while not being forced to sleep on the couch is that few things in life bring me the same joy as the bond between Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner.

But for a website that spends a lot of its time talking about positive masculinity, I’ve had to come to a reckoning about a lot of the media I consume. Is it possible to love something while acknowledging its flaws? Because if we’re being honest, the Fast and Furious movies display a lot of negative masculine traits yet also feature a lot of positive masculine ideals that men can pass on to each other.

When I told Rachel about this article idea, she scoffed. The same way you’re scoffing now. It’s okay, I understand. Despite this film being just an “action” film with fast cars and lots of explosions, there’s an argument to be made that the Fast and Furious characters embody some of the best parts of masculinity.

How do the Fast and Furious characters display positive masculinity?

In a film series based around fast cars, half-naked women, and Vin Diesel performing feats of strength that no human should be capable of doing, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for positive masculinity in the Fast and Furious franchise. But that’s not exactly true. The billion-dollar film franchise actually offers a lot of positive lessons for young men if you look hard enough for them.

The greatest bromance that ever lived.

The joke around the Fast and Furious movies is that they’re all about family. And yes, that’s true. We’ve watched Toretto and the gang graduate from being petty criminals stealing DVD players off the back of tractor-trailers to joining the U.S. government to help save the world from a nuclear threat. And while members of the team have been mixed and matched throughout the series, the core message that life is all about family has always been there.

That’s why in Fast Five, they re-introduced Han, or in Fate of the Furious, the Brazilians re-emerged for a quick cameo. The basic rule for any Fast and Furious film is that if you’ve ever been in one of the movies, you’ll have a job for life. Even if you die (looking at you, Han).

But seriously, there’s a lot to learn about male friendship from the Fast and Furious movies. Let’s start with the backbone relationship in the series: Dominic Toretto played by Vin Diesel and Brian O’Conner, played by the late Paul Walker. Walker’s untimely death in 2013 shook Diesel as they had been in every Fast and Furious film except for one to that point. They’d been co-stars, but more importantly, they’d become best friends.

The night of Walker’s death, Diesel flew to Walker’s mother’s house as he told Maria Menounos on her radio show: “The day after the tragedy, for me to fly from Atlanta that night and to show up at his mother’s house and for me to say to his mother, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ and for his mother to say to me ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ — I said, ‘Why? Why are you saying sorry to me?’ And she said, ‘Because you lost your other half.’…She was telling me something I wasn’t even aware of. I wasn’t aware of how profound the loss was. You don’t think about it while you’re living, and we’re probably all a little guilty of not telling people how much we love them while they’re here.” Diesel often mentions his friendship with Walker during interviews for the film series and made sure to write a touching Instagram post after filming ended for Fate of the Furious, the first movie in the franchise since Walker’s passing.

In talking about his love for Walker, Diesel is showing a positive example of what is supposed to look like. He isn’t afraid to be publicly vulnerable about the pain Walker’s death has brought him. And even more importantly, Diesel hasn’t been afraid to say that he loves Walker. That’s what close male bonds are all about.

For their respective characters, Toretto and O’Conner, their on-screen relationship grew throughout the franchise from one that depended on traditional masculine tropes to a friendship with more depth. A key to a close male friendship is the ability to show vulnerability to one another, in the first film The Fast and Furious, there’s a scene in which Toretto brings O’Conner into his garage. Toretto lets his hand glide over his dad’s 1970 Dodge Charger as he tells the story of his father’s death. When O’Conner asks Toretto about driving the car, Toretto responds simply, “It scares the shit out of me.”

That line, while on the surface, could be seen as just a backstory throwaway line, in terms of thinking about male friendship, it’s actually a stunning admission of weakness. Could you imagine The Terminator telling someone he’s scared? What about Bruce Willis in Die Hard? Probably not. Toretto saying he was scared actually symbolized a more profound revelation: Toretto was afraid of dying. Action heroes aren’t supposed to admit that, and especially to another guy.

As the series continues, their friendship moves beyond just fast cars and action stunts. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s still 95% of the movie, but there are more critical messages at play that young men can take from this franchise. Take, for example, the last scene of Furious 7. This is the infamous goodbye scene for Walker’s character in the franchise set to a Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa collaboration.

If you think back to the entire plot of Furious 7, there are two things that Toretto wants: his lover Letty, and to not involve O’Conner at all since he recently became a father with Toretto’s sister. Toretto’s character cares about protecting the relationship between father and child so much that he’s willing to take on the added risk of going to save Letty by himself. Of course, O’Conner shows up and puts his life in danger (multiple times, including a bad-ass prison fight scene that occurs for no reason storyline-wise).

But after this last mission, Toretto and O’Conner say goodbye in one of the most iconic scenes in the franchise’s history. In essence, a flashback of Walker’s best moments in the Fast and Furious show him, and his friendship with Vin Diesel grows before our eyes into one of the best bromances in cinema history.

Mani’s, Pedi’s and Haka Dances

Dudefluencer has definitely spent some time talking about fatherhood. We’ve talked about what it’s like in those first moments of finding out you’re going to be a father; we’ve written about what it’s like being a father to a little girl. But none of us here at Dudefluencer have ever talked about what it’d be like if Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a father.

And despite the Fast and Furious films having a problematic relationship with women (I’m looking at you Dom for forgetting Giselle died), the franchise has a relatively progressive interpretation of fatherhood when it comes to Johnson’s character Hobbs and his daughter Samantha.

We’re first introduced to Samantha Hobbs in Furious 7 after Hobbs is brought to the hospital after a rough fight against Deckard Shaw. Samantha’s role in this film is limited as she exists purely as a backstory to Johnson’s character, but her role increases in Fate of the Furious and Hobbs and Shaw, where we get to see Hobbs’ fathering skills really put to the test.

The introduction to Hobbs’ character in Furious 7 isn’t a street race or a guns-blazing firefight outside a top-secret government building. No. The camera pans over a forest as Johnson delivers one of his trademark speeches. “They’re going to be hitting us with everything they’ve got. So we want to engage with maximum speed, neutralize the shooters, and move onto our objective. There are two things I want you to keep in mind, number one, I chose you for this squad because you are the most fearsome warriors on the planet, and number two, you go out there, do your job, and take them down. And I mean everyone. Mani’s and pedi’s at the mall later on today.” The camera cuts to Samantha and her teammates clapping and celebrating as we come to find out that Hobbs’ latest job requires him to be the coach of his daughter’s soccer team.

There are a few things to note here. First, Hobbs empowers these young women by reminding them they are fearsome warriors. He emphasizes their strength and ability as a team. Second, I love that he casually tells the girls he will take them for manicures and pedicures. There’s no “Ewww” or pushback from Hobbs. He just matter-of-factly says that he’s going to take his daughter and her friends out for manis and pedis and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks. It’s just a normal part of being a dad, and he’s proud to do it.

What this scene does is normalize some of what it means to be a father. The argument that only moms take their daughters for pedicures, or listen to Taylor Swift is blown apart by the film’s depiction of modern fatherhood. Research shows that men who push back on traditional gender roles are much closer to achieving the fatherhood ideal than others. “We provide further support for the small body of studies that suggest that dominant masculine norms may be incompatible with the prioritization of nurturing, engaged fatherhood. It may be difficult for men to balance the competing norms of contemporary fatherhood with traditional masculinity.” And while Hobbs displays numerous dominant masculine norms, including shooting down a helicopter from the ground and re-routing a nuclear missile with his bare hands, his character shows to be an engaged father.

The most memorable moment of the scene though, comes when Hobbs and his daughter’s soccer team perform a traditional Maori Haka dance. This particular dance is culturally fascinating in that the Maori were warriors that accepted both male and female participation. And as the Rock’s neck muscles bulge beyond what an average human’s neck muscles should look like, I am reminded of the final scene from Hobbs and Shaw where Hobbs and his family also perform a traditional Haka dance. In both the scene with his daughter and before fighting off a superhuman Idris Elba, Hobbs’ performs with the same intensity. Hobbs’ clearly takes his role of being a father just as seriously as he takes his role as being the world’s most jacked truck driver.

Where do the Fast and Furious films fail in their depiction of masculinity?

As much as I love the Fast and Furious films, it’s hard for me not to notice that there is still work to be done when it comes to displaying positive masculinity. To be fair, I doubt they’re thinking about most of this stuff while designing plans to drive thousands of CGI Honda Civics off the sides of a building, but with the franchise’s worldwide popularity, I do think there is room for improvement.

Always choose the wrench.

It’s an action movie, you’re not supposed to think too hard while watching. Or at least that’s what I would have said a few years ago. But now, a bit older, there’s a part of me that always hopes the film series decides to show that intelligence and wit could also solve some of the world’s problems.

Take, for example, everything that happens with Toretto in Fate of the Furious. The entire movie could have been resolved if anyone decided to have a conversation with each other. Instead, we are left to see Toretto turn heel, murder innocent ambassadors, and nearly shoot his wife.

Tej Parker (Ludacris) and Megan Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are two of the most intelligent computer hackers in the world. Hell, Ramsey designed an entire global surveillance system that ends up being the focal point of Fast Six. Yet, they are relegated to background roles while Toretto, Hobbs, and Shaw use physical violence to save the world.

Even when violence has effectively hurt the “family” as in Giselle and Han’s (supposed) deaths, there is no grieving period, no soul-searching. Toretto briefly decides he wants to protect Brian and his family, but ends up fighting Shaw on top of a parking garage with a wrench. Now, I could make an argument that when Toretto drops the wrench before the fight, that’s actually a symbol of character growth as if he is finally letting go of the pain of losing his father, but that’s for another article.

What I want to point out is that at some point after murdering hundreds of people, and having people you love die, it would make sense for some of these characters to contemplate their actions and re-think their futures. I understand that action films are often littered with punches, kicks, and cars flying out of towers in Abu Dhabi, it’s a rarity for these characters to reflect on how their actions have cost them. At the end of Fate of the Furious, there be a serious discussion about the death of Elena, and how Baby Brian is not going to know his biological mother. Yet, nothing but a ra-ra speech from Dom, and some coronas atop a New York City roof.

To be a movie that genuinely confronts masculinity, at some point, action movies are going to have reckon with how violence affects the characters, and the world around them. Sadly, Fast and Furious is still working on that.

Half-developed female characters.

There’s a scene in every Fast and Furious film that involves the start of a drag race. The camera starts low and far away, two engines revving up and hip-hop music busting through the speakers. As the camera moves closer and closer to the action, a woman standing between the cars centers the frame. And there it is. Butt. Lots of butts. Any new location featured in a Fast and Furious film seemingly has a prerequisite of female ass-shots. Close-ups that align every jiggle with a beat drop. It got to the point in Fate of the Furious that I commented afterward that all of the butt shots were distracting from everything else in the film. Hopefully, the sexualization of women in the franchise gets revamped in the last two films.

Few characters were done more dirty than Elena.

Another one of the biggest arguments against these films is that the women are still seen as objects for the audience and the main characters. Let’s look at the death of Giselle: she died saving her boyfriend Hans’s life in a fiery plane crash. Yet at the end of the film, the family has a barbecue, and Giselle’s death gets nothing but a passing mention. I mean, Giselle, played by Gal Gadot, was the shit and shouldn’t have been killed off when she was, it hurts, even more, knowing that it was in vain.

At least I remember Giselle’s name. But I struggled to recall the names of Hattie Shaw, or Elena Neves, or Gina Carona’s character name. For the last one, her name was literally listed in the credits as “DSS Agent,” and I’d argue she had one of the significant roles in Fast Six. What I’m trying to get at is that these films make the women physically strong enough to kick anyone’s ass, the franchise could do a helluva lot better when it comes to characterization. The females tend to be relatively one-note: Ramsey is the attractive computer wiz, Hattie is the attractive kick-ass super-spy, and Elena is the attractive assistant cop to Hobbs who seemingly gives up her relationship with Toretto once Letty is found to be alive.

Despite this, most of the film’s pass the Bechdel Test (although that’s a low bar), and something is empowering for young women to see versions of themselves on screen kicking just as much ass as the men. But if we’re looking for equality, there is still a ways to go for the female characters in Fast and Furious.

It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning

Let’s be honest, this was more words on any Fast and Furious movie that you’ve ever thought you’ve wanted to read before. And besides, I think I may be thinking deeper into this franchise than any of the writers or directors. That’s just how much I love these movies and the personal connections that come with them.

So while on quarantine, I say take a break from listening to the news and pop in your Fast and Furious Collector’s Edition Blu Rays and get swept away into the world of illegal street racing.

Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out some of my other pieces here on Dudefluencer:

Everything You Need to Know About Positive Masculinity
The Importance of Male Friendship
Best Bromances in Entertainment

Share this post