This article contains spoilers. If you don’t want your experience ruined don’t read this until you have seen the film.
We ate our ridiculously expensive movie concessionary and grumbled about our childhood memories that were once again discarded in a live action superhero flick. Comic fans feel as if our life long support of the industry is rarely rewarded once the corporate elite in Hollywood get their hands on our beloved icons. We long for a summer where those heroes whose stories we have followed for so long can come to life on the big screen in the form of accurate character and plot portrayals. Our heads shake with disappointment leaving the theaters as another promise goes unfulfilled. Sometimes Hollywood gets it right, like the Batman reboot, the first Iron Man movie, or Hulk reboot but most of the time they get it dead wrong…X-Men 3 anyone? While purists bemoan the “creative” re-imagining of certain aspects of these universes for the most part we let the small things slide. When Hollywood promised us an X-Men reboot, I along with many other fans of this beloved franchise didn’t expect much. The first film was OK and then got progressively worse. Characters were killed off, powers were made up, and the only things that were in common with the comics were the names. In other words, the X-Men franchise sucked.
Not expecting a whole lot I along with 10 other friends and my two teenage sons went to go see X-Men First Class. We all had our fingers crossed. The reviews were great and since Marvel had redeemed itself for the past couple of Summers we at least expected an OK film equal to or slightly worse than Thor which we gave a B grade. Leading up to the film we all braced ourselves to be screwed over by Hollywood since they didn’t actually put the first class of the X-Men from the comics into the movie. Typical of previous X films they arbitrarily plucked characters from that universe and tried to make it fit. It never ceases to amaze why it’s so difficult to put a film together with over 40 years of written material. Character gripe aside, we pressed on and to our amazement it was actually a good film. Not a solid A or A+ like The Dark Knight, but definitely better than Thor. We would have been willing to walk away with no complaints had it not been for the huge slap in the face the director gave the fans who are of the African American persuasion.
It’s already bad enough that Hollywood has historically portrayed minority characters in a less than ideal light especially when it comes to the superhero genre. On some levels you can’t really blame them as there is not a whole lot of material to work with as there aren’t that many minority superheroes anyway. We had Blade but outside of that, black superheroes are either irrelevant sidekicks or extras in these films. Even when they are supposed to be powerful they are watered down such as Halle Berry’s Storm. It should have come to no surprise when the black character in the film who’s powers in the comics make him indestructible still managed to die in the first act. I would like to believe it was just me seeing things from a jaded Black Nationalist perspective, but I was not alone. If that were not enough moviegoers were treated to a racially charged scene prior to the annihilation of the un-killable “Darwin”. Kevin Bacon’s character “Sebastion Shaw” engaged the mutants in a brief conversation about the possibility of mutant enslavement, which isn’t unusual as this is a familiar theme in X-Men comics. However, when the line containing the word “slavery” was delivered the camera did a close up of the only black guy in the room. Everyone in the packed theater grumbled. 2 minutes later of course, they killed him off. Again, I would like to believe it’s just me, heck I wish it was, but I can say in all honesty that it was not. There were only two scenes in the entire film where the entire theater gave pronounced outbursts. One was when Hugh Jackman made a brief cameo as Wolverine, this scene was met with clapping and cheers and the other was when Darwin was killed off which was met with boos and catcalls and a few notable shouts of “BS”.
Everyone got it. I’m not going to go full throttle and say that the director is racist or even go all out and condemn Hollywood even though they have a pattern with this crap. However, something is there, that must be discussed. Why did the director feel the need to kill off a character who can’t die in the universe they copied him from? Why did he feel the need to include the slavery line complete with a close-up of the darkest guy in the room? I hate to think that an otherwise great film will be tarnished because of racial implications. Many will probably walk away and never notice this brief smack in the face to African American fans of the genre, but there will be a core of us who will not. The blatant disrespect to African Americans in that 5 minute space of film was unnecessary and speaks to a certain ignorance about African Americans as a whole. We may never know the creators of this film’s true intentions. Is it not enough that we won’t get prominent, noble black superheroes featured, or must they did the knife in deeper with the denigration of those whom they “placate” us with? I long for the day when my children can see themselves as a character in the magic of a Summer superhero blockbuster on par with their white counterparts. One can have the audacity to hope right?
As a side note, I wanted to add that there was another black character a female actress who played the seductive former stripper and scantily clad forgettable “Angel” in the film. This also points to the lack of prominent and dignified roles blacks are given in superhero films. I didn’t mention her because I didn’t want to add another 2 thousand words about the examples of black women in film and how black girls are taught in these films that heroines who look like them have to be weak, sexy, or both to make the cut.