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How The X-Men Films Continue To Fail At Representation

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X-Men: Days of Future past is an excellent movie–but why all the white men?

Warning: Contains spoilers for X-Men films!

After seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past twice I can say that it’s an excellent movie. Incredibly well handled, it’s one of the best comic book movies I’ve seen. The story line did the opposite of what a lot of superhero films have been doing lately and really played into its comic origins; it was like reading a comic book. Much of the success is owed to the performances of the cast. Everyone seemed to be on their A game. James McAvoy in particular stole the show with a committed and nuanced performance. But despite the magnificent film that it was, and the success of its prequel (X-men: First Class) I do have one question: Why all the white men?

X-Men is a comic that has ties to the civil rights movement and people who have historically been oppressed because of their race, religion, gender, or sexuality. It is not a perfect analogy for many reasons, as is discussed in The X-Men X-plained FanBros podcast, but the undeniable influences are there all the same. So why then is this film at its core only about straight white men? I’m one of the first people to admit that the Magneto and Professor X relationship is interesting, but watching and reading X-Men growing up I always thought of them as background to the mutant students: favorites like Rogue, Cyclops, and Storm.

There’s no denying that the X-Men movies include characters of different races, gender, and nationalities, but why does it treat all that aren’t white males so poorly? People of color were sprinkled into the dark sentinel future during the action scenes. You have Warpath, who has superhuman senses and is canonically near indestructible, Bishop who absorbs and deflects energy, Blink who sets up portals, and Storm who of course controls the weather. In Bryan Singer’s own words on the new mutants, “you pick people who are visually appealing who have character…” Yet when it comes down to it these characters are no more useful than weapons. The real character development is given to straight white men.

Warpath image

There were too many characters, you might argue. There’s no time to develop them all. However, it’s obvious that the filmmakers had the opportunity to pick and choose who got screen time. Kitty Pryde was supposed to go back in time in accordance with the Days of Future Past comic arc. A fair amount of hand waving was done to replace her with Wolverine. All of the mutants have substantial power, and they could just as easily have created a reason for one of the others to sustain the journey rather than another white male protagonist (who we’ve seen plenty of already). So “in service of the story” is not a solid excuse.

The disappointing treatment of any non-white characters goes back to X-men: First Class. During that film, the only two POC characters Darwin and Angel die and turn to the “evil” side, respectively. Women don’t fair much better. But what about Raven/Mystique, you say? In X-Men: First Class she is caught in a weird love triangle between three male protagonists: Erik, Charles, and Hank. Romantic aspirations influence her decisions entirely.

RavenHank image

As much as Raven was at the center of DoFP, we didn’t get any real insight into her character. When asked whether she was the heart of the movie, Bryan Singer counters that she was the MacGuffin (plot device) instead. She only gains true agency towards the end, but no real audience understanding of how or why she came to her decision. Emma Frost from XMFC–who is equally if not more powerful than Charles– was killed off screen. Rogue had a subplot that was cut because once again it didn’t seem to serve the narrative. I can just as easily argue that Magneto’s final actions were a betrayal of his character and cause, however the filmmakers had no problem retaining that.

The most exasperating part is to see a well-loved character and realize they are only to be used for their cool powers; any stand in could do their job. Will this change in future films? We can only hope so. Lupita Nyong’o as a young Storm, leader of the X-Men would be brilliant in the role if given more to do than the dreadful Halle Berry version. It would be great if they included some LGBT characters –such as Northstar– as well. There are endless ways that these movies can truly represent the marginalized groups that the source material has drawn inspiration from for years and if any film franchise can do better for inclusion I think it ought to be X-Men.

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  • Warmachine04

    We could gripe all day about the lack of diversity. Why since the writers are male Anglos. Their voice of prose is from an inner perspective. I’m glad that Ellen Page told the world she was gay. It’s sad that we aren’t seen more in the movies. But when we are seen like trip from Agents Of Shield No one says that’s cool that he wasn’t just the magical brother. Also I think it’s easy to just have a minority in the back ground of these movies. I’m just glad that Disney Marvel movies at least have minority s talk and do things.Unlike Fox or Sony who shy away from colorful characters like the plague. Just look at the new season of The Boondocks “shakes his head”. Hopefully At least Apocalypse will be black. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

    • Tatiana King-Jones

      Funny thing is if apolocalypse was played by a Black actor folks would be mad that the evil/bad guy is a Black man furthers typical perpetuations. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was more diversity in the first place then people wouldn’t think a role cast in that manner would be pandering to stereotypes.

  • Airmaxtrin

    Well first I’ll say this agree to an extent. However I dont think it’s the films purpose to be inclusive. We are talking a comic in 60s origin but we as POC we relate because of the similarity the mutant cause vs civil rights. But we also tend to reach for reason sometimes and create things in our minds that might not be the case. (not saying that is what you did im speaking in general) For instance the switching of Kitty Pride to go back in time vs Wolverine, wasn’t to keep the white male lead to push the story. It was simply Wolverine is the “cool” factor to the X-Men movies with the exception of first class all the films basically are told through the Wolverine eyes. Its been joked that the whole franchise is just Wolverine movies. Thats what people know the movies are made more for casual fans than the die hard X-Men reader.

    The issue of POC in movies in general are we are quick to point out when the traditional mainstream media fails to show us in different light yet sometimes seem to be comfortable when we do it to ourselves. I agree X-men could have done more per say but this was basically a movie that was meant to reset the universe so it had to work through the confines of story that where already created. I have hope for the series moving forward. I hope we see more importance to some of the POC characters that exist in X-men lore.

    BTW Lets not put Lupita in EVERYTHING. lol I get it but she is one of MANY Black Actresses that deserve shine. We tend to take one person and try to spear head them in everything. Why not make the next Lupita, while Lupita continues to work on her craft in Star Wars.

    • Keith

      Yeah really. I mean great for Lupita that she’s getting the recognition….but these effin’ short sighted casting agents don’t seem to realize she’s one of thousands of talented black actresses out there?
      Lord, you know the type of agent s they are…’Oh …she’s black?…lets get Lupita for this….she’s hot right now and this’d bring a whole other audience to the movie…..’ morons. Its Star Wars. People will come regardless. If only just to hate on it.
      As for ‘apolocalypse’ (sorry Tatiana – couldn’t resist!), lets hope the character IS cast as a person of color -Middle Eastern – hopefully as that would reflect the region and let me tell the detractors in advance…….SHUT THE ‘EFF UP AND SIT DOWN!

      • Tatiana King-Jones

        Lol! It’s cool I’m queen typo sometimes

  • earthshaker1217

    See my thing about Lupita playing Storm is that she and Halle are significantly different shades of black. If they got a Kenyan woman who was closer to Halle’s skin tone, then that would be dope. And am I the only one who wants Apocalypse to be black. Like he was from ancient Egypt. There were black people in Ancient Egypt.

    Other than that, I love this editorial. The fact that the story focused on all of the white male characters and killed the people of color while limiting the roles of the women was really disappointing.

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