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The Queer Antics Surrounding Jason Momoa’s ‘Fast X’ Character

The Queer Antics Surrounding Jason Momoa’s ‘Fast X’ Character

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If you haven’t seen the latest iteration of the Fast and the Furious franchise, you are somehow missing out on everything all at once. As has been stated in an earlier review, the newest installment, Fast X, is bigger, faster, and, heck, even more car-packed than previous entries. However, the problem is that it is also more homophobic.

In the new movie, Jason Momoa stars as Dante Reyes, the Portuguese son of former Fast Five villain, Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Almeida first made his appearance as the then-antagonist in Fast Five when the Fast family stole his safe and took it on an excursion through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, likely killing a bystander or two. Now, following Almeida’s late character, Momoa’s performance can easily be deemed exceptional, yet campy and charming.

Momoa plays the maniacal Reyes with the intensity of Heath Ledger’s Joker and the subtle corniness of every Schwarzenegger villain circa 1985–1990. Where things get weird, however, is when Momoa, the writers, or both, throw in a dash of queer coding to make Reyes that much more “menacing.” 

For those new to the term, “queer coding” is when a character is played as fitting the stereotypical trappings of being LGBTQ+ without the connection ever being made explicit. Further, queer coding in particular seems to occur most frequently when the character is meant to be a strange, villainous “other.” Think Jafar from Aladdin being depicted as an eyeliner-wearing, primly dressed sorcerer placed opposite a plucky, makeup-free street urchin modeled more like a California surfer bro. Think Scar from The Lion King being given more effeminate mannerisms, a lithe figure, and arched eyebrows as opposed to Mufuasa and an adult Simba being broader in physique and stereotypically coming off as distinctly more masculine. Heck, think Ursula of The Little Mermaid being modeled after drag queen Divine. And of course, Disney is not the only company to have engaged in this practice (although they really seem to enjoy doing it); they are just a part of a larger problem — our view that queerness, homosexuality, or anything that runs against heteronormativity is creepy, weird, or scary. 

Enter Jason Momoa.

Now, to say Momoa plays Reyes as queer-coded is not a stretch. Just a brief glance at reviews will reveal some interesting word choices. Vanity Fair applauds Momoa’s “flamboyant” take on the character. Forbes similarly uses the very same word. And The Verge notes that Reyes’ wildness “smacks more of gay panic” than anything. “Flamboyant,” of course, could be applied to straight people as well as queer people, but when the character, like Momoa’s, is the only male character in the film to don pig-tails while he paints his toenails and the nails of two male corpses he has propped up next to him, then, well, “flamboyant” just seems like a polite euphemism. 

People that have seen Fast X will likely point out that Momoa’s character is never shown to be attracted to other men (although one wonders what ended up happening with those spa-day corpses) and, indeed, that Reyes only ever flirts with Isabel (Daniela Melchior), a woman who does not reciprocate his feelings. But the thing about subtext is that it’s, you know, subtext. It is a point made at the periphery of stated intention. At its best it is meant to evoke a feeling in an audience without insulting their intelligence by spelling out every single intention behind a work of art. At its worst, whether done consciously or not by an artist, subtext can lead audiences to a series of harmful equations like “nail polish + man = bad,” or “long hair + outlandish style = strange,” or, most interestingly, “atheist = villain.”

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I bring up this last issue because it underlies the main conflict in Fast X; while all the main heroes like Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), or their son Little Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) reiterate that they “have faith,” Reyes is presented as explicitly atheist in a monologue where he explains that he was legally dead for two minutes and saw nothing. As a result of this experience, he seemingly “lost” faith, and he has become a nihilistic terrorist since. 

So, on one hand, we have the faithful, family-oriented group wherein “family” implies a mom, a dad, and children surrounded by a loving network of other equally straight, equally faithful mommies, daddies, and children. On the other hand, we have the “flamboyant” atheist-terrorist who literally tries to blow up the Vatican at one point while doing a sacrilegious Christ-like pose. I lied — it’s not subtext. It’s overtext. It’s beating us over the head with several points, and it really just won’t stop. Add to this that Dom’s crucifix necklace becomes the currency various characters exchange with one another to show that they, too, have “faith” and that Reyes explicitly taunts Dom for trying to be a “saint” who must perform miracles to save his only begotten son. All these factors combine to result in a film so wildly anti-queer in its effect that Mel Gibson making Satan a hairless, effeminate weirdo actually comes off as subtle.

Now, none of this is to say that Jason Momoa or the screenwriters set out to revitalize a harmful trope that was on the decline. Likely, homophobia is so ingrained in our society that, in order to make a character truly villainous or “other-ized,” they must seemingly flow against the currents of our social order. That means foes who are presented as “queer,” in every sense of the word, are usually done so with an emphasis on the sexual connotation of the word. 

Yes, Fast X is a big-budget Corona and car commercial that probably spent about a week or so really working out its script beyond getting its characters in position to set up parts two and three, but that doesn’t mean it’s beyond criticism. The Fast movies have combined to make a $7 billion franchise; that means, however silly they are, they are getting millions of views, and often those views are children who are soaking up the themes these films impart. If the theme is “gay atheists want to destroy the world,” that’s a huge problem, and the overly stereotypical push of queer misconceptions in the film is an understatement. Jason Momoa’s Dante Reyes is a harsh example of a meltdown when it comes to adequate LGBTQ+ representation. 

Fast X is currently in theaters. 

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