The Fast the Furious isn’t what you’d call an NPR-friendly movie series. It seems big, dumb, and commercial. (NPR has posted lists of "Movies You Were Too Good to See.") But on Thursday night’s All Things Considered, NPR entertained a Boston Globe film critic who said The Fast and Furious movies are very "progressive." When challenged on it, Morris shot darts instead at The Blind Side.
NPR anchor Michelle Norris began "Fast cars, fast women, sun-kissed backdrop, Fast Five is the fourth sequel in the hugely successful Fast & Furious franchise. The films do not charm most critics, but one of them, Wesley Morris, calls the series the most progressive force in Hollywood."
She asked: "Now, progressive? That's an interesting term. It's not a word that you would naturally hear attached to a bang-'em-up speed flick, so make your case." Morris simply argued that since the cast was multiracial and had no racial tension, it was progressive:
WESLEY MORRIS: Well, basically, the thing that I'm most interested in with this series is that it promotes race as this very normal thing. And around these cars are these very different types of people, but it's not the subject of the movie the way it is in most Hollywood movies. Race is just a matter of fact. It is not the way people conduct their business. It is not a cause of friction. These people happen to be Asian, Hispanic, black, white. It doesn't matter. They just really want to steal the cars and catch the people who've stolen them.
MICHELLE NORRIS: And by race, you're talking about sort of a multi-ethnic approach in the cast and the packaging and the marketing?
MORRIS: Everything. I mean, it's not just multiracial. It's interracial. It's polyracial. It's - I mean, race has just kind of exploded into such a thing in these movies, and it almost doesn't even matter.
Norris didn't ask whether it's "progressive" to glamorize car thieves, but she did carefully maintain the snobbish NPR attitude toward such brainless "escapist" entertainment.
NORRIS: You know, these films are not exactly, shall we say, deep.
MORRIS: No, they're not. They're actually really simple.
NORRIS: There are a lot of fast cars, and they're not, you know, exactly nuanced social commentary. And, in fact, The Onion did a recent spoof that we should listen to before we go on. Let's take a quick listen.
What followed was a satire that the whole Fast & Furious movie series was created by a little boy. Morris wasn't fazed. He stuck to his thesis just like Norris did:
MORRIS: I think that there's a degree to which the infantile aspect of the way the movies are laid out serves a really interesting corollary to how this race thing functions. I mean, the audience who sees this movie is not going to leave this movie saying, "Wow, it was so awesome to see all those of people of color just hanging out like normal." That's their life. There's nothing to talk about. It's taken for granted. That's just the way it is. But to Hollywood, I think - I can't overemphasize enough how unique that is, where The Blind Side, for instance, is a movie that made well over $200 million, but it's also a movie that's in many ways about the way we tend to see race in America after a hundred years of movies, which is...
NORRIS: Here, we're talking about the story of a white Southern woman who takes in a homeless and very large black young man who winds up playing on the football team.
MORRIS: You would think the story would be about him and having a bad mother and being virtually homeless and not having any options and this woman comes into his life, but the movie is actually about the woman and how good it is that she's brought this kid into her life. It's a vehicle for her goodness, and sort by extension, it tells the story of the history of race in Hollywood. It fosters a very sort of familiar liberal idea which is that "I, white person, will make myself feel better by bringing you, black person, into my life."
Most people who enjoyed The Blind Side would not say the whole movie is about what a good person Sandra Bullock's character was. It absolutely focused on Michael Oher having a bad mother and not having any options. Bullock's character even goes to Oher's old neighborhood and compassionately talks to Oher's real mother. The idea that The Blind Side is less progressive than Fast Five is more than a bit amazing. But radical blacks probably don't want any movie with a white savior of a black child, even if they're based on real life. Those movies should just be banned as too patronizing and racist.
All that was left of the NPR segment was the part that really needed a laugh track. Norris kept prodding that Fast Five was not exactly a movie for sophisticated NPR station members. Morris responded by praising as "equal opportunity shallow," in that all races and both genders are shallow:
NORRIS: You know, there are a lot of people who are interested in seeing more nuanced or sort of more multidimensional portrayals of people of color on screen. And to them, "Fast Five" is, you know, while they applaud the success, it is also somewhat of a disappointment because the women are always clad in bikinis and because, you know, the characters are not - do not necessarily come across as particularly deep or intellectual.
MORRIS: That's a fair criticism. I just feel like all the characters are shallow, not just the women, and all the characters are hot, not just the women, and all the characters have their clothes off, not just the women.
It's an equal opportunity shallow here, and I do think that there is a huge dearth of movies that deal with race seriously, but I don't know. I mean, I feel like this movie is a huge success for treating race as something we deal with every day. And I think a part of the popularity of this series is that it looks like the world that a lot of the people who pay money to see these movies, it looks like the world they live in. And that isn't ever really the case in most Hollywood movies, even in 2011.