When I saw the trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, I swore audibly in the theater and hissed a vow to never see the movie. I am a lifelong X-Men fan. I love the comics, I love the movies, I love the cartoons — but I wasn’t going to see this film.
Because, as far as I could tell, DoFP took a story that, in the comics, had been about women, teenagers, people of color, and immigrants saving the future of humanity, and turned it into a story about cis het white guys and their relationships.
Erasure. The erasure of marginalized groups. That’s what I saw in the movie’s trailer.
Months and months later, I grudgingly sat down to watch DoFP. I’d kept hearing how it was a great reboot. I’d heard how it was good storytelling. I’d heard that the action sequences were good. So I hauled out my knitting and paid the online rental fee and watched it on my breaks at work. And …
… and, I found both camps to have merit. The movie was better than I wanted to admit. And it still privileged cis het white dudes and their feelings over the marginalized groups who had been instrumental to the story in the comics. I understand the commercial and artistic reasons why those choices were probably made. And I still resent them.
When I talk about representation in superhero comics, I find myself most often discussing non-flagship titles. Representation — by which I mean the existence of characters whose identity matches the actual real-world dispersion of those identities. Not tokenism, not the Smurffette Principle, not The Gay Best Friend, not the Sassy Black Woman, not stereotypes or stand-ins. Actual fully developed characters being treated as equal to cis het white dudes. — is most often found at the edges of superhero comics. So many of the best-selling characters are legacy characters from a time when stories were only told about C.H.W.D! It’s in the newer characters, the limited series, the spin-offs, that we find representation.
Yet the best-known X-Men stories edge pretty near to diversity. They were the diversity titles of their time, with tokens from all sorts of groups to the point that eventually those characters were no longer tokens. In the comics, Days of Future Past is a story about a Jewish bisexual woman – Kate Pryde – traveling through time to save the future. She did this with the help of a black woman, a Jewish holocaust survivor, a Russian, a Canadian, and two teenagers. Once in the “present,” teenage-seeming Kitty must get the X-Men — Kurt, Ororo, Logan, Peter, Warren, and Professor Xavier — to stop Mystique from assassinating Senator Kelly.
This seems similar enough to the movie plot that many people — including you, Gentle Reader — may find my objections to be quibbles. I argue, however, that subtle erasure is still erasure.
The first and most obvious point is that the movie has Logan — a cis het white dude — travel back in time. This is manifestly because he is the box-office-bank character for the movies. But while Kitty is still in the film, she a) replaces Rachel Summers’ role, erasing another female character, and b) is no longer responsible for leading the past-X-Men on their mission.
My second problem is the composition of the past-X-Men team. Xavier, Erik, and Hank. Three cis het white dudes as far as the film franchise is concerned. Erik is still a Holocaust survivor, but the rest of the comics-team’s diversity is erased.
My third problem is with the composition of the future team. That is where we find our people of color, that is where we find our diversity. And their entire purpose in the film is to die on-screen. Now, those fight scenes were fantastic! I loved them! I loved the teamwork and creativity of the action. But they still just … died on-screen. Twice.
In a country and culture that devalues black lives, that says our police can kill black men for no damn reason whatsoever, I vehemently oppose the fictional killing of people of color. Until we as a culture stop seeing black people as disposably less human, we have to stop using them as props in gruesome on-screen death-plays.
Black people cannot exist in our movies merely to die.
All that said, I still found the movie … reasonably enjoyable. I liked the action sequences. I liked Quicksilver. I liked the plot — which, to be fair, I did not examine too closely because I have loved this plot since I was thirteen years old. I loved the performances. Jennifer Lawrence was particularly good, as was Peter Dinklage. And, as a fan, I was ridiculously happy to see Blink and Bishop.
But. But I kept thinking, where is my Kitty? My Rachel? Why are all the black people dying? Why do we need a hunky white guy to tell these other white guys how to save the world?
Why can’t we — the marginalized, the forgotten, the erased — save the future our own damn selves?
When I finished the movie, I found myself more resolved than I had been previously to do just that.
Go out and work with my people so we, together, save the future our own damn selves.
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