It's no secret that the X-Men are an allegory for marginalized minorities in their native comic form. But they're also a staple of the turn-your-brain-off summer blockbuster machine. While reconciling one with the other, has First Class failed to represent the groups it's meant to be about?
That's the latest controversy, and it's not the first time a popular film franchise has faced similar accusations. Whether it's the jive-talking robots of Transformers 2 or Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels, the question of racism almost inevitably pops up. And why not? After all, these are the movies that everyone goes to see. It only makes sense to analyze the fiction we're all consuming, right?
First Class takes place in 1962. That was a pretty rough-and-tumble period for civil rights in both American and world history. Ta-Nehisi Coates had this to say in his New York Times article:
"But as First Class roars to its final climactic scene, it appeals to an insidious suspension of disbelief; the heroic mutants of America, bravely opposing bigotry and fear, are revealed as not so much a spectrum of humankind, but as Eagle Scouts from Mayfield. Thus, First Class proves itself not merely an incredible film, but an incredible work of American historical fiction. 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."
Which begs that we ask all the tough questions. Did the film do enough to shine a light on systemic racism and draw parallels to the civil rights movements of today? Is too much time spent focusing on white, male leads and not enough on women and people of color?
Nora K. Jemisin makes quite a few salient points on her site:
"The black guy died first. All the people of color (including those mutants who can't pass for human, like Azazel and Raven) and less-acceptable ethnicities (counting Erik's Jewishness here) ended up "going bad". The lone brown woman in the story, Angel, was intensely sexualized. One of the PoC on the side of the "bad guys"—and in this case I'm referring to the Spanish actor Álex González, who's likely to read as Latino to American eyes even though he's European—never speaks a line; he's just a (mutant-powered) thug in the background."
So what's the difference between what First Class wants to say and what it wound up saying? There may not be any right answers here, but the questions, we think, are worth asking.
But the most important question is—what do you think?