How The X-Men Films Continue To Fail At Representation
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.
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.
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.