"I really don’t want to believe that Paul Walker’s dead."

It’s been nearly 18 months, and the pain I felt after reading my friend’s text remains as sharp as my own feelings of disbelief. It’s not often you can feel an awkward silence in a group text, but after everyone who received this 10-word message got confirmation of Paul Walker’s death on that November evening (while The Fast and the Furious was on cable, eerily), my group of childhood friends was collectively devastated. We’re huge fans of the Fast and Furious films, but the franchise became irrelevant at that moment. Walker was a father, son, brother, and friend. The bond he formed with his Fast and Furious cast mates reminds me of another multicultural clique’s relationship: that of my own friends.

Absurd action sequences aside, one of the reasons why Fast and Furious resonates so well with us and audiences worldwide is because the main characters' relationship represents what everyone wants America to look like.

Released 14 years ago, the first of the seven Fast and Furious films introduced the franchise family with Brian O’Conner (Walker), then an undercover cop, getting in way too deep with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew, falling in love with Toretto’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). The F&F gang picked up new members as the series progressed: O'Conner's old friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) is introduced in the John Singleton-helmed 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the pair turn into a goofy, new millennium Riggs and Murtaugh. In the process, they pick up a new friend in Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), further stirring the cultural pot. 

Tyrese, still in character as Jody from Singleton’s Baby Boy, plays comic relief to Walker’s grown Zack Morris/chill surfer bro/disgraced cop. But he's neither the sambo, nor the magical Negro stereotype to Walker’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed lead. He injects some much-needed life into the film, and the dynamic between him and Walker made my friends and I long for a future buddy (non) cop reunion. It would eventually come, but we’d have to wait for the film to make a brief stop overseas. 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift seemed extraneous at the time, but in hindsight, proved absolutely necessary. It introduced Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang), another integral part of the crew and story.

While the series has become less concerned with racing, high-speed competitions in luxury cars are still the only races that matter in this universe.

Each subsequent Fast and Furious film is an apology for Tokyo Drift. They’re important (and adored) because they gave fans precisely what they wanted: all of the key heroes from each film. The product of this union is a new, expanded Toretto crew featuring the racial variety of a United Colors of Benetton ad, but with a gang of loveable felons. Dom, Brian, Mia, and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are all together once again, and Brian is finally reunited with Roman and Tej. In addition, Han and Gisele (Gal Gadot) become a lethal couple. The team also finds unlikely allies in rigid DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), Dom’s brief significant other following their meeting in Fast Five. By the conclusion of Fast & Furious 6, the larger Toretto crew resembles a mosaic consisting of various shades.

I was a high school sophomore when the first Fast and Furious came out. Me and my two best friends largely ignored the first movie, but adolescent boredom (coupled with the fact that we'd been knighted with driver's licenses of our own) had us in theaters for the sequel's opening weekend. As the series continued and the Toretto gang added members, my little clique did, too: first my oldest buddy's new friends from college, then my friends from high school. We developed a mutual appreciation for the Fast and Furious movies due to Tyrese's ridiculousness, as well as our ability to watch each film repeatedly. Replay value is supreme in this era of disposable media, and while Fast and Furious lacks the prestige of Star Wars, it has appreciated over time. But most importantly, we found kindred spirits in the fictional group, down to the collective sense of humor and interracial relationships. We ride for Fast and Furious because we view ourselves as miscellaneous kin, just as they do.

There’s a scene at the end of Fast & Furious 6 where the unit’s most recent iteration is having a cookout at the Toretto household. The principals—Dom, Brian, Mia, and Letty—are all present, as are Roman, Tej, and Han. As Roman and Tej work the grill, Agent Hobbs and Elena stop by briefly, resulting in an awkward, yet amicable exchange between her and Letty. Mirroring a scene from the first film, it ends with all the characters holding hands and blessing the food prior to a family dinner.

This level of racial harmony would put an ear-to-ear smile on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s face (kinda ironic that it comes in a movie franchise about illegal street racing, but hey, the 21st century comes at you fast). Seated at the head of the table is Dom, the leader of a group that has transcended racial boundaries to form a bond stronger than friendship. As he says in the trailer for Furious 7, "I don’t have friends, I got family." My best friend—who finally feels like my older brother now that he's married and has a kid—repeated Diesel's words verbatim the last time we were all together.

This collection of human Avengers (who favor your high school’s multicultural student union) is a snapshot of the colorblind society that progressives yearn for.

Whenever the release date for a new F&F film is announced, my friends always talk about seeing it together. This is because hitting a theater deep as hell and taking up half a row makes for a more congenial experience. The side comments exceed Mystery Science Theater 3000 levels of golden, and, no matter how old we get, it still feels refreshingly celebratory. The fact that Furious 7's release coincides with the birthday of my circle's resident old man enhances that high, but also makes it bittersweet.

To this day, Paul Walker’s death makes it difficult for me to watch the trailer for Furious 7, or any of the previous Fast and Furious films. My group of friends (which, like the cast, consists of varying shades of beige) has grown so close to the franchise that Walker’s death feels like we’ve lost one of our own. As a result, watching the movies is like looking at old pictures of a fallen friend. Since 2001, the Fast and Furious movies have progressed from racing flicks, evolving into The Italian Job on HGH while exploring a unique familial dynamic. While the series has become less concerned with racing, high-speed competitions in luxury cars are still the only races that matter in this universe.

This collection of human Avengers (who resemble your high school’s multicultural student union) is a snapshot of the colorblind society that progressives yearn for. It may never become a reality, but that’s why the Fast and Furious movies exist: They’re a wild vacation from real life.

The Fast and Furious films are Julian Kimble’s favorite movie franchise. Judge him freely. Also, can they bring Eva Mendes back? Follow him @JRK316.

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