'Hobbs & Shaw': How Dwayne Johnson Was "Custodian" of Samoan Representation
Screenwriter Drew Pearce unpacks redefining family for the new 'Fast & Furious' spin-off.
The Fast & Furious movies are obsessed with the “F” word: Family. Since the first installment, in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, the movies have explored every facet of what it takes to be a family, and how little (or a lot) blood relation actually matters. But in the new spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, out in theaters Friday, family levels up with a massive speed boost.
In Hobbs & Shaw, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham co-star as their bickering, bald badasses who return from 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. Tasked with stopping Etheon, an evil corporation that wants to release a super virus, Hobbs (Johnson), Shaw (Statham), and Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) must save the world, if they don’t rip out each other’s throats first.
In a climactic battle set in Samoa, the homeland he ran away from, Hobbs fights Etheon’s army beside his sibling brothers with whom he’s made amends. But in an interview, screenwriter Drew Pearce tells Inverse that the theme of “family” wasn’t originally what Hobbs & Shaw was supposed to be about. It happened “organically,” as Pearce and Chris Morgan (writer on the films since 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) hammered out its central heroes.
Pearce also says Johnson, who is half-Samoan and sports a traditional Pe’a tattoo, shepherded the film’s representation of large Samoan families.
“It wasn’t like the first word on the white board was family and we [wrote] Hobbs & Shaw around it,” Pearce says. “It was the opposite. It came in more and more, and it gives the movie, which has its own vibe, ties to Fast & Furious in a way that was almost not the intention in the beginning.”
The Fast & Furious films, Hobbs & Shaw included, notoriously define families in two ways. The first is by blood; Hobbs & Shaw stars two protagonists who start the movie estranged from their relatives. The other definition is family forged by conflict; Hobbs and Shaw can’t go five minutes without arguing, but they must work together to overcome the odds.
“This one has a different emotional dynamic,” Pearce says in comparison to other Fast & Furious installments. “It is a classic buddy-slash-frenemy set up. Two people who hate each other are forced to work together, and in some ways come to respect each other’s approaches and realize the only way to beat this adversary is together than apart.”
While Pearce says that is “not a new dynamic,” he says “what came organically are the backstories.”
He adds, “Hobbs is already up and running [as a character], though the Samoan aspects hadn’t been explored and that’s something Dwayne was interested in. In the case of Shaw, we had no idea where this guy came from. One of the tricky things going into this movie is, how do we track the Shaw that killed Han to the Shaw who is the co-hero of a movie?”
Pearce refers to Shaw’s original role as a villain in the series. In the post-credits of 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, Statham debuted in a cameo where he killed the fan favorite character, Han (Sung Kang). Statham’s Shaw served as the villain in 2015’s Furious 7, but evolved into an ally in The Fate of the Furious.
Fans who still grieve for Han tweet with the hashtag #JusticeForHan and remain skeptical of Shaw. You have to admit, it’s sweet that fans feel this way about these characters, which speaks to the heart that beats in these movies.
“I don’t know if its because it’s baked into the DNA of the franchise, or if it’s because of [producer] Chris [Morgan] as the architect, but the family aspect of it and the mirror of Hobbs and Shaw just came organically,” Pearce says.
The climax of Hobbs & Shaw brings its characters to Samoa, where the heroes need to regroup and confront Etheon on even ground. There, Hobbs seeks the help of his family, whom he left behind in an origin story that’s revealed in the movie. It takes some effort, but the Hobbs clan comes together to fight Etheon and their superhuman minion, Brixton (Idris Elba).
Many cultures around the world celebrate the warmth and comfort of families, and that especially includes people of Polynesian descent. Pearce says Johnson oversaw the film’s representation of Samoan families, down to some of the dialogue and quirks of his mama, Sefina (played by Lori Pelenise Tuisano). Additionally, Johnson’s real-life cousin, WWE star Roman Reigns, cameos in the film as one of Hobbs’ brothers.
“If anything was policed hard, it was that,” Pearce says. “Dwayne wanted the movie to go to Samoa, and he became the custodian of every single aspect. It was deeply researched and deeply felt throughout. Every second of every day on set was important to Dwayne.”
But an audience member doesn’t have to be of Samoan heritage to resonate with the movie’s portrayal of tight-knit families. “Dwayne’s obviously driving that stuff, but what’s universal is big families. That’s something I understand, and Chris and [director] David [Leitch] do too.”
Ultimately, Hobbs & Shaw is a big movie about strong people who are willing to do anything for the ones they love. And while the film pokes fun at action movie tropes (watch Idris Elba introduce himself as, and I quote, “Bad guy”), Pearce found that emotional sincerity is why fans flock to Fast & Furious.
“There’s a voice running through the movie that undercuts the tropes of big movies and the sincerity of the Fast movies, but we learned that sincerity is what makes Fast so endearing,” he says. “It feels like, however fast you drive, you can’t get away from family in Fast & Furious.”
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw hits theaters August 2.