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An Ode to Letty Ortiz, the Secret MVP of the ‘Fast & Furious’ Franchise

Michelle Rodriguez’s character fought like hell, died, came back to life, and is still taking names

(Universal Pictures/Ringer illustration)
(Universal Pictures/Ringer illustration)

For more than a decade and a half, the Fast & Furious franchise has ripped, roared, and pressed every last NOS button on its way to action-franchise preeminence. To mark the release of The Fate of the Furious, the series’ eighth installment, we’re declaring it Fast 8 Week. Please join us in living life one quarter-mile at a time.

Let me be clear: This is not a thing about how Letty Ortiz, alpha female of the Fast & Furious franchise, is dope because she manages to exist within a male-centered movie universe as a woman who will not be marginalized, or disrespected, or, truly, treated as anything other than capable and equal. I mean, yes, those things are true. But this isn’t that. This is a thing about how Letty Ortiz, alpha female of the Fast & Furious franchise, is dope because she is fucking dope.

These are just some of the things I have seen Letty Ortiz do:

  • Knock out a man with a single punch.
  • Conduct multiple ultra-high-end precision-driving operations, including one time Tokyo Drift–ing a car along the edge of a cliff so as to rescue Brian, one of her frie — family members, from death. (My favorite thing about this scene is that Brian ends up getting whipped sideways from the force of the drift, tumbling across the dirt and gravel to a stop. Letty gets out of her car and she’s entirely unimpressed by her own driving brilliance. She just stares at him for a second, her face a tiny bit scrunched up the way her face is always a tiny bit scrunched up. Then, finally, after a beat, she talks. "You good?" she asks of the man who just completed the most miraculous and physically taxing escape of his life. Then she walks away without helping him up.)
  • Use a harpoon gun to shoot a spear into an enemy’s chest, knocking her out of a plane. (This happened after they’d gotten into a violent fistfight with one another.)
  • Successfully order Dominic Toretto, the most I Don’t Like People Telling Me What To Do person of all, to do something simply by hollering his name.
  • Dive-tackle someone trying to arrest her down a flight of concrete stairs in a subway terminal, flipping and twisting and tumbling down the steps, then get up and escape on a subway car as the cop laid there disoriented, which was understandable given that she’d just gotten dive-tackled down a flight of concrete stairs in a subway terminal.
  • Fight Ronda Rousey, the former UFC bantamweight champion, to a standstill after defeating three security guards. (She and Rousey flipped over a guardrail and fell some 20 feet, landing on and destroying a piano. The fight ends there with both of them entirely spent.) (Also, Letty was wearing an evening gown and high heels while she did this, which seems like something that should be mentioned.)
  • Drive a car under the midsection of an 18-wheeler while the driver of the 18-wheeler was actively trying to kill her.
  • Flip her car a bunch of times in a nasty, nasty, violent, deadly car crash, and then crawl out of the wreckage on her own and walk away. (Related: This one happened in The Fast and the Furious. She survived a similar crash in Fast & Furious, too. She also dragged Dom from the wreckage when they both crashed their cars during a race that happened before the first movie. It saved his life and nearly cost her her arm.)
  • Survive a gigantic explosion that happened just several feet away from her.
  • Infiltrate a criminal organization in an attempt to wipe away the life-in-prison charges her husband was facing.
  • Come back from the dead.
  • Bring her husband back from the dead with her love.
(Universal Pictures)
(Universal Pictures)

Back in 2015, back right when Furious 7 was released, Alyssa Rosenberg wrote an article for The Washington Post about why she liked Letty so much. The line from it that stuck with the most, and the one that I think about a lot whenever I rewatch one of the F&F movies she’s in: "While she’s often in danger, she’s rarely in distress." That’s such a smart and nuanced observation, and one that is essential when sussing out why Letty has become a figure of admiration.

(Universal Pictures)
(Universal Pictures)

I cannot lie: It means a lot to me that Letty Ortiz is named "Letty Ortiz," and that she is played by a woman named Michelle Rodriguez. There are many conversations on the internet about the importance of positive representation in film and television and so on, and that is great. I love it. Sometimes I wonder what that type of responsibility feels like to the people who end up in those spots. It has to be a heavy thing, daunting and intimidating.

Pretend that all of the movie characters you have ever known and seen were real and lived in the same space and time as you and I do currently. What do you think Letty Ortiz would say if somebody asked her about being tasked with serving as the role model for all of the people who are proud that her last name ends in a "Z"? I bet it would be something dope. Because Letty Ortiz is fucking dope.

Letty Ortiz is the third-best character of all the characters in the F&F’s core group, otherwise known as Dom’s group.

All of the key characters in Dom’s group, ranked:

  1. Dominic Toretto: Obviously.
  2. Brian O’Conner: Obviously.
  3. Letty Ortiz: Smart. Talented. Fearless when she needs to be fearless, but also cautious when she needs to be cautious. A gifted racer. (She came closer to beating Dom in a race than anyone else.) A gifted mechanic. A gifted fighter. All of the people in the group have a thing that they’re super good at. Her thing is that she’s super good at everything.
  4. Agent Hobbs: Hobbs became a part of of Dom’s group in Fast Five after Dom rescued him from death during that shootout scene. That was such a great moment. Remember how, after Dom reached his hand out to Hobbs, they both grabbed each other by the forearm. I was halfway expecting them to each yank the flesh of the other person’s bone when that happened, on account of how superheroically strong they are.
  5. Roman Pearce: The funniest scene in the entire series belongs to Roman, which makes sense because he’s the funniest guy in the series. (This is it.) It makes me laugh literally every single time I watch it.
  6. Han Seoul-oh: Invisible. Right in the middle of the rankings. Exactly how he belongs, where he belongs.
  7. Gisele Yashar: My greatest dream is that we get some sort of Fast & Furious–Wonder Woman crossover soon.
  8. Tej Parker: It’s neat how, over the course of two movies, Tej went from being a mechanic and a guy who knew a lot of people to a guy who knew everything about safes and could hack into any network, anywhere, ever.
  9. Elena Neves: I always respected the way she walked away after Letty showed back up.
  10. Mia Toretto: Obviously.

(I feel bad for not including Tego Leo and Rico Santos in this. I’m sorry.)

Is Letty Ortiz the most complicated character in any of the Fast & Furious movies? She is, right? It feels a lot like she is.

She fell in love with Dominic, who is a wonderful movie character, absolutely, but kind of not that great of a guy to fall in love with. Remember when Letty tried to talk him out of committing that final heist in the first movie, the one that ended with Vince nearly dead and everyone all of a sudden being chased by the police? Remember how she tried to talk him out of running off without her (he wanted to because he said she was going to get hurt staying with him) and then he did it anyway while she was asleep and then later on she almost died?

She constantly fought against the sexism that came with living as a woman in the illegal-street-racer circuit. The best time was when she raced that one guy at Race Wars in the first movie.

She got amnesia and then got recruited into a rival crew. The two best parts about this: (1) When she shot Dom. (I was S-H-O-C-K-E-D.) (2) The way that she was the one who worked through all of the stuff in her own head to eventually find her way back to the group. She saved herself, which is just great. Because remember, Fast 6 (which is the one where all the amnesia stuff happened) ended with her having joined back up with Dom and everyone, but still not having regained her memory. She was going on straight gut there, which was a remarkable jump to make.

She rose from the dead. I will never get over this and never not be thankful for it. She’s the only character in the series who’s come back from the dead. Of all of the main good-guy characters, Jesse died and Han died and Gisele died and Letty died. Only one came back. And after she came back is really when her storyline took off. (My favorite part about this is that Rodriguez said that she had no idea her character was coming back. She found out when she watched Fast Five in a movie theater, because at the end of Fast Five they show Hobbs with a folder of pictures of her still alive. Imagining what her face looked like in that moment always makes me happy.)

Here’s the best thing about Letty Ortiz, and it’s a thing that only she does in the series and a thing she does so well that you don’t even notice it unless you’re all the way paying attention: She makes every single character a better version of who they are and what they are. Sometimes she amplifies a character’s obvious strength (her stoicism makes Roman Pearce seem even funnier; her toughness makes Brian’s accidental charming goofiness seem even more charming; the boom of her presence makes Han seem even more invisible; etc.). And sometimes she draws out parts from a character we wouldn’t have noticed or seen otherwise, and the most obvious example is the way she takes Dominic, who is like a giant piece of marble in a muscle shirt, and turns him into a gooey, earnest, cuddlebug.

Without Letty, it’s an entirely different, thoroughly less interesting movie series. Without Letty, everything is just way less dope.