In Fast & Furious—the series’ fourth movie and the one that launched the franchise as we know it today—Dom (Vin Diesel) and a would-be love interest (Gal Gadot, somehow) prowl around a car in a dank garage, eyeing each other coquettishly. “Are you one of those boys who prefers cars to women?” she asks in an exquisite Israeli accent. He stares back hard and replies, “I’m one of those boys who appreciates a fine body, regardless of the make.”
This is followed by a long pause, presumably so a small but dedicated segment of this series’ audience could scream. Although I have no doubt a steady supply of bikini-clad track marshals and powerful gas pedals has successfully hid this fact from most viewers, the Fast and Furious movies are, and have always been, tremendously gay, on a level—as in the scene above—that nearly leaves behind subtext for full-on text. I am far from the first to note this. Upon the arrival of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw last week, the New York Times’ Wesley Morris wrote that the movie’s pyrotechnics feel like a pretext for a forbidden “romantic comedy” starring the Rock and Jason Statham, and he’d but stumbled onto what is now a nine-film ode to the stealth male action romance, and maybe to queerness writ large.
If the original The Fast and the Furious was provably a remake of Point Break with car-driving thieves instead of surfing bank robbers, its weird homoerotic energy may have been inherited. Whatever the case, the saga of Dom (the name alone) and Brian (Paul Walker) was from the start a Romeo-and-Juliet tale of an FBI agent and a career criminal fighting their positions in life to be together. Yes, there were female love interests: Brian was permitted to pine for Dom’s sister (Jordana Brewster) as a proxy, while Dom was with a butch woman named Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, a longtime queer-baiter who eventually came out as bisexual). But with a steady stream of smoldering stares, muscle T’s, and roguish flirtation via three-ton racing vehicle, the true romantic subjects and their “torrid, homoerotic-bromantic chemistry” was hard to miss. By the end of the movie, when Brian and a bloodied Dom await sirens to bring Dom into custody and the men stare at each other in a prolonged, heated silence, you momentarily wonder if they’re going to go in for a kiss. (Instead, Brian gives Dom the keys to a car, which, in The Fast and the Furious, is basically a sex act anyway.) As with Point Break before it, the movie went on to inspire lo-fi YouTube cuts that reedited it as a romantic drama, as if it needed the help in the first place.
It didn’t hurt that, as his stardom rose, rumors about Diesel’s off-screen sexuality began to circulate, which he addressed in 2009, incidentally when Fast & Furious revived his character and the franchise’s prospects. “I’m not gonna put it out there on a magazine cover like some other actors,” he said then. “I come from the Harrison Ford, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino code of silence.” The article added, hilariously, “Diesel claims he prefers to date in Europe,” a perhaps unintended dog whistle to every gay boy whose middle school girlfriend went to a different school. Perez Hilton, then in his heyday, headlined his dispatch on the comments, “Vin Diesel Is Still Not Gay (Allegedly).” (Diesel now has three children with a female Mexican model, but some dreams die hard.)
Tempted as I might be, I will not now commence a nine-film inventory of the Fast and Furious’ queer infrastructure, but I’d be remiss not to at least point you to 2 Fast 2 Furious, John Singleton’s uproarious sequel that introduces Brian’s childhood friend, Roman (Tyrese Gibson). We first encounter the pair as their gazes meet and they wrestle each other to the ground, straddling each other in worrisomely tight jeans. It only escalates from there, as Roman goes on to jealously bark at Brian when he flirts with women (“you’re always getting in trouble over a female”) and the men commiserate over not wearing underwear in the Miami heat. (The movie is widely considered the series’ worst, but I can’t recommend it enough.)
As the series has dragged on and turned to huge casts and cars flying from planes and between skyscrapers to sustain itself, it’s fair to say the intimate nature of those early movies has taken a back seat, but let the record about its true animating force be clear. As recently as Furious 7, the 2015 installment that sent off Walker’s character after the actor’s death, coverage of the movies called to its enduring subtext; one Telegraph dispatch declared that particular film “the bisexual blockbuster,” pointing to its “roaringly unsubtle” erotic themes. (That strikes me as a generous read of the series’ nominal female love interests, but I suspect characters like Letty are overdue for reevaluation.) The piece noted this dynamic was “introduced in the first two films perhaps by accident, but now deliberately and openly embraced.”
I confess I gave up on the series somewhere around movie six, but it’s heartening to know, at least according to Morris, that Hobbs & Shaw has carried this sacred mantle to a new generation of questioning 15-year-old boys who are likely watching it at this very moment and thinking, huh. Beyond the series’ prodigious displays of musculature and breathy romance in the guise of masculine competition, its true queer soul may lie in its delightfully corny embrace of the sniping, multiethnic, seemingly orphaned ragtag crew the franchise collected as its movies (and important overseas box-office territories) proliferated. “Money will come and go. We all know that,” a solemn Dom reminds the collected squad in Fast Five. “The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room. Right here, right now.” Chosen family—it doesn’t get much gayer than that.