“Vin Diesel still recalls the bad old days of street-race apartheid. In 2001, his breakthrough movie, The Fast and the Furious, powered into multiplexes featuring separate but equal factions of outlaw hot-rodders from across the racial divide—glowering Latino gearheads, African-American wheelmen with cornrowed hair, a pack of Asian “tuners” known as the Little Saigon crew—all competing for drag-strip primacy in late-night L.A.
“There were cliques not totally unlike The Warriors or other gang movies,” says Diesel. “It was segregated in its own way while still trying to incorporate a multicultural theme.”
But over the franchise’s transformation into one of the highest-grossing series of all time, boundary lines of turf and skin color have become increasingly blurred. By the fourth installment, 2009’s Fast & Furious, members of those factions had banded together to form a United Nations-like “family” of scofflaw speed demons, including an ass-kicking Latina (Michelle Rodriguez), a Korean-American cool guy (Sung Kang), a golden-boy cop-turned-criminal (Paul Walker), and Diesel’s own ethnically ambiguous, chrome-domed dragster Dom Toretto.
At last, here was a cast that reflected the reality of our country’s racial makeup: 37 percent of Americans now identify as nonwhite, and the U.S. Census Bureau projects a “majority-minority” population in 2043. The importance of the Furiousmovies’ multiethnic ethos is not lost on Diesel, who is gearing up for Furious 7, in theaters April 3.
“It doesn’t matter what nationality you are. As a member of the audience, you realize you can be a member of that ‘family,’” he says. “That’s the beautiful thing about how the franchise has evolved…”