Robot 6

Quote of the day #2 | ‘The quintessential mutants of America were black’

My son is 10 and a romantic, as all 10-year-olds surely have the right to be. How then do I speak to him of this world’s masterminds who render you a supporting actor in your own story? How do I speak of the Sentinels whose eyes melt history, until the world forgets that in 1962, the quintessential mutants of America were black?

—from a New York Times op-ed piece on Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class by Atlantic contributor Ta-Nehisi Coates. In the piece, Coates praises the film as “the most thrilling movie of the summer…narratively lean, beautifully acted and, at all the right moments, visually stunning” — and at the same time finds the makeup of the film’s mutant heroes and anti-heroes an unintentionally revealing glimpse into the American psyche. “Here is a period piece for our postracial times — in the era of Ella Baker and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the most powerful adversaries of spectacular apartheid are a team of enlightened white dudes.”

Coates elaborates on both points, and more besides, on his blog. “It is easily one of my top five comic book movies ever, and significantly better than any of the other X-movies to date,” he writes, even after comparing it unfavorably to the racially homogeneous but racially aware Mad Men and calling it “a period piece blind to its own period.” He also offers a quick take on the pros and cons of the film’s treatment of women, a point examined in depth by The Mary Sue’s Susana Polo.

Elsewhere on the “sociopolitical examinations of the latest X-movie” beat, ThinkProgress’ Matthew Yglesias agrees with a point of Polo’s and argues (twice) that Magneto’s out-and-proud Brotherhood of Mutants has a far more appealing message than Xavier’s accommodationist group; Ezra Klein disagrees, pointing out that Magneto’s agenda is a supremacist one, and wondering if the real dividing line between rival mutant camps would be one between those who could profit monetarily from their abilities (eg. Storm selling her rainmaking services to agribusiness conglomerates and drought-stricken nations) and those who couldn’t; and Adam Serwer connects the film with Avatar‘s enlightened-colonizer-goes-native storyline as “another example of the way the quest for racial innocence so permeates American culture that it’s almost unrecognizable.”

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12 Comments

Um, wasn’t Darwin black?

Most of them weren’t American. FAIL.

Racism in America? Racism in Hollywood films? I for one am not going to sleep tonight, shocked as I am.

Apollokid9000

June 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

The X Men are metaphore for the oppressed and discriminated.
It’s way they, maybe more so than any other superhero characters including the Big 3 ( Batman, Superman, Spider Man), can spark interest from a wide audience.

You can debate the Xavier/ Magneto comparision to MLK Jr/ Malcome X.
You can talk about the age a person should be when it’s decided that there is a war to be fought.
You can see how power can corrupt ( Magneto), blind ( Xavier), or both ( Shaw) man.

I’d have to think that the potrayal of women and the non white mutants was intentional.

You could say that Emma to do much but be at Shaws’ beck and call. Well, one of the lines by the head of the CIA towards the end of the film highlights what many of the powers that be thought of women ( with many today still do)

The way Darwins’ a d Angels’ parts play out, it unfortunately is how many people see actual people of color, especially blacks in america.

Even in at the movies, there’s no happy ending.

The film is visually and tonally committed to the time in which it is set.
( Whoever stated it as a Bond film starring the X Men has a strong point)

The advantge First Class has on most superhero films is that it can be seen as being about more than an introduction to super human people.

A lot of times, the stories of the X Men are.

Dragos: Yes, and if you read the linked-to blog post, you’d see Coates refer to him as the Crispus Attucks of the film.

Sure Darwin was black… He was also killed off about ten minutes after he was introduced. The only one of the bunch killed off. The only other non-white in the movie, Angel, immediately ditches her new friends for Shaw’s team, in spite of seeing what atrocities they were capable of, including Shaw’s killing of the aforementioned Darwin.

So, yeah, I can see why people might have a problem with the racial politics of First Class. Don’t get me wrong… I mostly liked it (in spite of some plot flaws), but the racial inequity in the movie, while talking a good game about equal rights for all, was a bit embarrassing. The mention of slavery, followed by a quick close-up on Darwin’s face, was cringeworthy too.

Yeah, I loved the film, but it did stick in my mind that by the end of the movie (spoiler alert?) all but one of the handful of female and/or minority characters wound up dead or aligning themselves with the villains.

Too bad, too – Darwin grew on me fast!

@Sharif – Most Americans arent Americans.

I wanted to point out something that may be problematic. If people only consider the under representation in the film, the fact that this occurs will become arbitrary. It is only by standing back and looking at the social environment in which this movie occurs that you will in fact see the lack of representation that is not limited to entertainment but occurs in politics, education, socio economics etc.

What these movies tend to do is simply replicate ( with imaginary beings) the white dominant heteronormative patriarchic social environment in whcih we live in. But Many people tend not to believe this because instead of addressing these issues they rather ignore it ( color blindness) which negates the existence of ongoing and overwhelmingly systems of discrimination within commuinties of color.

It is also important to understand that white privilege takes many forms and is not restricted to socio-economic, socio-political advantages. In this movie, white privilege takes the form of representation and preferred performance identity– e.g. The powerful and leaders because of our Dominant White Patriarchic Characters are Magneto, Professor X and Shaw while the rest descend according to phenotypic appearance ( percieved to have white skin) and gender ( the preference of men over women), starting with all white male characters being powerful, white women are next in line, persons of Mixed hertiage follow, and lastly the black male.

If you think critically about these issues, you are likely to see it. If on the other hand, you are just looking at it as entertainment you more than likely won’t see it.

I also wanted to post an article that I wrote on last year. Upon hearing Spider-man was going to be rebooted, Donald Glover ( an African America) expressed interest in the role which created an uproar in the comic fanboy community. This is my response.

It is highly likely that the fundamental problem that “certain” people may have with making Spider-Man black has little to do with the originality of the character, but with the deep racial stereotypes that pervade our society and culture establishing pre-conditioned character preferences. In this case, the desire to have a white spider-man rather than having a person of color.

In regards to pre-conditioned characters in pop-culture e.g. comic books, most of the powerful, well-known and sometimes rich superheroes are depicted as white heterosexual males e.g. Superman, ‘Spider-Man’, Batman, Iron-Man, Thor, C. America, Cyclops. etc In contrast Black characters ( Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Static Shock, Darwin) are often represented with mediocre powers that both follow and are typically confined to pre-conditioned racial/social performance identity stereotypes.

1.) Trusty Sidekicks: Lucius Fox, and James Rhodes, and Pete Ross to name a few. (Despite the fact that he was White in the comics). The fact that an African American is playing a white minor role only reinforces the negative portrayal of African American’s or minorities playing unknown, minor supportive roles which Stan lee seem to be ok with,”Here’s the point: We’ve already had the Kingpin in ‘Daredevil’ portrayed by a black man, where he was white in the comics, and we’ve had Nick Fury portrayed by a black man where he was white in the comics. But not that many people had seen these characters” Now there might be those that may argue that their are whites that play sidekicks as well e.g. Robin, Speedy, Aqua-lad, Bird Boy. However they are not confined to these roles but instead are evenly distributed among other roles i.e. other type characters both powerful, and mediocre, both rich and poor etc.
2.) Next, Place of Origin: Majority of Black Characters come from the slums. Examples of this occurrence would be: John Stewart aka Green Lantern, Jefferson Pierce aka Black Lightning, and Virgil Ovid Static Shock, Amanda Waller, Luke Cage all come from the ghetto. Now, I admit there are exceptions such as Black Panther (Wakanda), But the issue with that is something I will consider at another time. Nevertheless, such confined stereotypes are not limited to African Americans, but are experienced by women as well.

Even though are women heroines that are powerful, the weaker one’s outweigh the powerful ones.
Many women in comic books are depicted as relatively weak in contrast to their male counter-parts. Elektra, Invisible Woman, Storm,Jubliee, Spider Woman, Jubilee, Conversely, characters like Iron-Man, Superman, Batman are depicted as over-powering or overwhelmingly rich.

Because of the pre-conditioned racial and gender stereotypes that pervade our society, this helps to maintain pre-conditioned beliefs and character identity preferences. That is why having a black Spider-Man is believe to be unacceptable.

Whether Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, or any comic book creators have racist intention may be difficult to argue. But one could argue that the social envirionment in which comic books occur often influence the comic book writer and like everyone else’s influences their ideas, behavior and attitudes. Therefore, I assert that the production of the comic book hero diopter highlights and represents white heteronormative patriarchic norms.

While I find Ta-Nahisi’s observations shrug inducing, it makes me wonder what African American history would look like in a Marvel Universe that assumed superpowered folks were a factor in the story. In a world where superpowers were distributed evenly among the population, how would a race-based slave trade have ever gotten started? Even if, somehow, it got started, how could slavery have persisted in the South when, at any second, some Nat Turner with the power of Dr. Strange could have shown up? Are we to assume that the antebellum Marvel Universe was rife with super-”heroes” who defended slavery, fighting these revolting super-slaves? The real question about Marvel’s 1960s X-men isn’t why more members of the team aren’t black – statistically, pull 8 mutants together in 1960s America and there’s a decent chance they’d all not be African American – but rather what were all the superpowered African Americans and racist super-segregationists are doing?

@MJ

Question: Do you think that in the marvel universe, it is coincedental that whites are depicted as having powers ( a wide variety of different powers) in contrast to people of color ( men and women) disproportionately having powers and are restricted to inferior powers with a few exceptions like Storm.

The reason why there would be that indecent chance of having more whites on a teams than not during that time period has more to do with exclusion and marginalization than simply demographics and statistics. Keep in mind, people of color, despite Brown v. Board I and II, were still not able to integrate into white dominated schools e.g Aaron v. Cooper and eventual Post Adams litigation in the collegiate system.

Whether intentional or not, these movies do represent white heteronormative patriarchic domination through the medium of pop culture and entertainment.

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