Does the Fast & Furious series have a problem with women?

Ben Bussey
UK Movies Writer
The women of ‘Fast & Furious’; L-R, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Gal Gadot (credit: Universal)

Michelle Rodriguez has stunned fans of the ‘Fast & Furious’ movies by threatening to quit the series unless “they decide to show some love to the women of the franchise.” Looking back over the treatment of female characters in the eight films made thus far, it isn’t too hard to see where her complaints may be coming from.

A largely testosterone-driven affair since day one, the bulk of the women seen in the ‘Fast & Furious’ movies have always been anonymous, scantily clad extras shot from low angles at the side of the road. Still, there have been a number of key female characters brought in to be more than eye candy.

While ‘Fast & Furious 8’ introduced probably the most sinister villain of the series yet in Charlize Theron’s cyber-terrorist Cypher, it didn’t necessarily give the other female characters in the film their due – and one female character in particular met a perhaps excessively cruel fate, for dubious reasons.

Let’s recap the key heroines to have featured in the ‘Fast & Furious’ series to date, and consider how the movies treated them (omitting Theron and Gina Carano’s villains for the sake of brevity, and skipping third part ‘Tokyo Drift’ as it isn’t really part of the main series chronology).

WARNING: substantial spoilers for all the ‘Fast & Furious’ movies ahead.

Michelle Rodriguez as Letty in 2001’s original ‘The Fast and the Furious’ (credit: Universal)

Letty (Michelle Rodriguez)

As the longest-serving female cast member in the ‘Fast & Furious’ series, Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is of course the obvious place to start – but Rodriguez had her doubts from the beginning. The actress has openly discussed the problems she had with the original script for ‘The Fast & the Furious,’ which put Letty in a love triangle between Vin Diesel’s street-racing thief Dom and Paul Walker’s undercover cop Brian.

The actress recently explained to Entertainment Weekly, “Imagine if Dominic Toretto found out that blondie boy was messing around with his girl. It’s not logical. You’re not with the most alpha male who will protect you and take a bullet for you and then leave him for a guy who can get beat up by him.”

While Diesel and director Rob Cohen ultimately agreed and made the changes, Rodriguez concedes this has fed into a reputation of her being difficult: of which she says, “I’m not hard to work with. I just demand a certain level of respect for the individual character.”

However, it’s debatable as to how much respect Letty was shown when Rodriguez reprised the role in 2009’s fourth instalment ‘Fast & Furious,’ as she was killed off early on. The key reason for her death was simply to give Diesel’s Dom and Walker’s Brian a shared motive for revenge, bringing them together to take down a crime lord.

Letty does battle in 2015’s ‘Fast & Furious 7’ (credit: Universal)

This is a prime example of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘women in refrigerators’ plot device. This term, coined by comic book writer Gail Simone (and inspired by a Green Lantern storyline in which the hero finds his murdered girlfriend in a fridge), disparages the use of violence against women in storytelling when it serves only to advance the narrative arc of the male hero, typically by pushing him to seek vengeance.

In Letty’s case, the ‘Fast & Furious’ movies arguably made up for this by revealing her to still be alive in a ‘Fast Five’ post-credits scene, and bringing her back as a pivotal character in the subsequent three instalments. Rodriguez has since had several of the best fight scenes in the series, notably with MMA fighters Gina Carano in ‘Fast & Furious 6’ and Ronda Rousey in ‘Fast & Furious 7.’

Alas, as we shall see, Letty was not the last ‘Fast & Furious’ female character to get ‘fridged.’

Jordanna Brewster as Mia in 2009’s ‘Fast & Furious’ (credit: Universal)

Mia (Jordana Brewster)

Before Michelle Rodriguez’s return to the forefront, Jordana Brewster’s Mia was the key ‘Fast & Furious’ female – but she never got as big a piece of the action as Letty, and was given even less chance to flourish as a character in her own right.

Also introduced in the original ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ Mia was the solution to the Dom/Brian/Letty love triangle problem: she was Dom’s sister, who Brian fell in love with. Ultimately, then, Mia only ever really existed in relation to the ‘Fast & Furious’ men, sister to one and girlfriend to another, hardly ever giving us much of a chance to know who she was herself.

This lack of development on Mia’s part is also key to Michelle Rodriguez’s grievances: “I’ve been making movies with Jordana… for 16 years and I can count on one hand how many lines I’ve had to her. I think that’s pathetic and it’s lack of creativity. Guys don’t know what girls talk about. They think that girls just sit around talking about guys and it’s a sad truth of men being the dominant writers in Hollywood.”

Brewster got to participate in a few car chase scenes in ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ ‘Fast & Furious’ and ‘Fast Five,’ but that fifth film saw Mia fall pregnant with Brian’s child. From then on, she was largely relegated to staying at home with the baby and occasionally serving as the voice of Brian’s conscience, before being essentially retired alongside the late Paul Walker’s character following his tragic death during production on ‘Fast & Furious 7.’

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Eva Mendes and Devon Aoki n 2003’s ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ (credit: Universal)

Monica (Eva Mendes) and Suki (Devon Aoki)

When Vin Diesel declined to return for the first sequel, 2003’s ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ moved Walker’s Brian to Miami to enter into a whole new world of street racers; among them Devon Aoki’s Suki, and Eva Mendes’ Monica, the latter ultimately revealed to be an undercover US Customs Service agent – and, of course, a new love interest for Brian.

However, while ‘Fast Five’ brought back ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ stars Tyrese Gibson and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges (with characterisations pretty far removed from their original performances), Aoki was nowhere to be seen, whilst Mendes appeared only briefly in the post-credits scene.

Aoki’s absence is no great surprise, as she has since retired from acting (hence Jamie Chung took her role in the sequel to ‘Sin City’), but it’s surprising that more hasn’t been done with Mendes. Early rumours suggested she would have a key role in ‘Fast & Furious 8,’ but these proved false; she’s also been mentioned as a contender for a ‘Fast & Furious’ spin-off movie of her own, but given the character’s main appearance was now 14 years ago, this would seem unlikely.

Gal Gadot as Gisele in 2011’s ‘Fast Five’ (credit: Universal)

Gisele – Gal Gadot 

Introduced in 2009’s ‘Fast & Furious,’ Gadot’s Gisele was initially an underling of the drug lord Braga (John Ortiz), primarily there to provide exposition and flirt with Diesel’s Dom, who rejects her advances as he’s still grieving for the supposedly dead Letty.

Not the most auspicious introduction – but, like Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, Gadot got to return as a wildly different take on the character in ‘Fast Five,’ in which she was every bit as pivotal to the high-speed heist action as any of the guys. Still, they had to give her a gratuitous bikini scene, although in this instance it was worked to show the character using her feminine wiles to further the plan.

So far, not so bad, and Gisele got in on even more action in 2013’s ‘Fast & Furious 6,’ which added some gun battles and hand-to-hand combat into the mix. However, Gisele too met a fairly fridge-worthy demise, as the one good guy fatality in the explosive finale. This might have felt a lot less hollow if any of the crew beyond her love interest Han (Sung Kang) showed any signs of grief at her loss; but again, her death really only served to advance Han’s story, sending him back to Japan for the events of ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’ (urgh, that confusing series chronology).

Still, post-‘Fast & Furious 6’ Gadot landed the role of Wonder Woman, so we rather doubt she’s too broken up about being written out of the franchise – plus it’s known that she remains good friends with Vin Diesel.

Elsa Pataky as Elena in 2013’s ‘Fast & Furious 6’ (credit: Universal)

Elena (Elsa Pataky)

Introduced in ‘Fast Five,’ Pataky’s Elena seemed at first to be a welcome break from series convention when it came to female characters. A tough and principled Rio cop, she is singled out by Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs to serve as his police liaison because he recognises that she serves the law and can’t be bought. She also proves capable of holding her own in a firefight.

Unfortunately, once Elena becomes romantically entangled with Diesel’s Dom by the end of ‘Fast Five,’ she’s essentially demoted to love interest, and more or less dismissed early into ‘Fast & Furious 6’ once it’s discovered Letty is still alive. After that, she returns briefly in ‘Fast & Furious 7’ to do battle with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw alongside Hobbs.

However, the real stinger is how ‘Fast & Furious 8’ does away with Elena for good – and one has to wonder whether it’s this moment in particular that Rodriguez may be thinking of when she says the series needs to show the female characters more love. In what has to be the franchise’s most pointed instance of ‘fridging’ thus far, Elena is revealed to be the mother of Dom’s baby, taken prisoner by Charlize Theron’s Cypher, and unceremoniously killed off as a punishment to Dom – once again, for no better reason than to give Dom the motivation to seek revenge.

Surely the darkest moment in the ‘Fast & Furious’ series to date – not least because Elena is shot dead in front of her crying infant son – it’s a misguided, uncharacteristically cruel scene in a series otherwise defined by larger-than-life action.

Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey in ‘Fast & Furious 8’ (credit: Universal)

Ramsey – Nathalie Emmanuel

The newest female addition to the core ensemble, Emmanuel’s Ramsey was immediately established as a key player in 2015’s ‘Fast & Furious 7.’ Her rescue from a heavily armoured convoy served as the impetus behind one of the film’s most spectacular action sequences, but even beyond that point Ramsey became vital to the action as the computer genius who created the God’s Eye device, the central macguffin driving the story. Of course, this being ‘Fast & Furious,’ a gratuitous bikini scene was also thrown in.

Unfortunately, ‘Fast & Furious 8’ did little to advance the character, with Ramsey there primarily to sit in the background spouting cyber-babble exposition, and to facilitate a comedic tension between Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and Ludacris’s Tej, as rivals for her affection. Let’s hope Part 9 winds up giving her a bit more to do.

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