X-Men: First Class – racial tensions

Only white people need apply. Or blue if you're white underneath or spend most of your time looking white.

My displeasure with the rest of the X-Men film franchise almost led me to not seeing X-Men: First Class, despite the early good reviews. Social stimulation brought me out to see it, and I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, it did not make up for the Wolverine-centered focus in the first three films, the utter banality of X-Men, the almost good film ruined by a completely ridiculously stupid ending that was X-2 (seriously, the X-Men are trained to be a team, so it doesn’t make sense that Jean Gray would fight a tidal wave by herself when Storm can send a strong wind against it, Iceman can freeze water, and Cyclops’ blasts are actually a physical force…), the complete miss that was X-Men 3, or the existence of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But it was a clever movie in that it was a period piece and mixed a tiny bit of the spy genre into the plot. It almost made the film seem classy.

Almost.

Before I get into the big issues inherent in the film, I have to let the comic book pedantic have his say. Charles Xavier is British for no other reason than Sir Patrick Stewart’s being British and having portrayed him previously. Comic book Xavier was born and raised in New York. Moira McTaggert is originally a Scottish geneticist with the maiden name of Kinross, not an American CIA agent. Similarly, Banshee is supposed to be Scottish. These shouldn’t be big issues, and generally are not, but the latter two’s change to American almost goes against the inclusive message of the X-Men comics and suggests an unfortuante level of ethnocentrism. This is made even more clear when one realizes that none of the so-called first class of X-Men was necessary for the plot. They easily could have just used lesser-known American mutants and told the exact same story.

The issues with First Class, unfortunately, are in the other races portrayed. While Angel is likely Hispanic given that her surname is Salvadore, the fact that she is portrayed by Zoe Kravitz suggests that the character is African American. Angel quickly joins the Hellfire Club in the second act of the film, which is mostly acceptable given that the comic character does the same thing. Unfortunately, there are no other portrayals of African American women in the film, which makes this a negative portrayal in a film dominate than white males.

Then there’s Darwin, whose ability is immediate adaptation for survival. Darwin is the only African American male in the film, but during the second act he is swiftly killed in accordance to the oldest trope in the book – the black guy always dies first. Darwin is forced to essentially eat the force of a large explosion, and he cannot seem to adapt to it. This is disappointing to me as a fan of the comic book Darwin (who survived being touched by Death itself) as well as a fan of positive African American portrayals. Again, this film is dominated by white males, and the only African American male dies at the hands of a strong white male because his power (and therefore he) failed to function as it should.

Black people are either evil or not as effective as they would seem. That is the lesson of X-Men: First Class. I wonder what horrible lessons of life we’ll learn during the second class.

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About Gospel X

I am a major mediaphile as well as a social researcher. My ultimate belief is that the media can be used to teach children prosocial behaviors and teach adults how to access paradigms. And I think that Mega Man is an amazing example of proteanism. Add me on Google : https://plus.google.com/u/0/113795848855477334599

Posted on June 12, 2011, in Bechdel failure, comics, movies, race and culture, review, science fiction, scifi, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Would you have preferred no portrayals of African-Americans?

    I found this post one of the most interesting I read on my reader all week
    ‘At the X-Men movie:
    Me: “Why are there only white people in this movie?”
    Friend: “The white people are metaphors for black people.”‘

    Originally there were only white characters in the first class of X-Men, but their interaction with society was supposed to represent minorities.

    • I would have preferred more positive, meaningful portrayals of minorities in general…but especially of the black people involved. Your question brings to mind another interesting question: Would you prefer dead black people or no portrayals of African Americans? It’s not so easy to say. I prefer having other options, of course.

      I know that the real comic book first class of X-Men technically represented minorities despite being all white, even though that wasn’t quite the intent of the comics until many years later. I’d venture to say that aspect of more subversive storytelling didn’t come into play until the “second class” of X-Men featuring their first international cast of characters. It’s around that period of time when they decided to portray Xavier as the Dr. King of mutants against Magneto’s Malcolm X.

      None of this has anything to do with the movie, which could have handled things a lot better. Either make the African Americans more meaningful, or write a story more true to the time period – Xavier and Magneto could either hold discussions about how the mutant struggle might be akin to that of minorities or they could have turned their noses up at blacks in an overtly hypocritical fashion.

  1. Pingback: movie of the day : X-Men- first class (2011) « things of the day

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