Home Publishers Marvel X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, race and gender

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, race and gender


For a movie about mutants, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS has led to a lot of interesting discussion. Set in the ’60s — a time of great social change and timeless fashions — filmmakers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman had more on their mind than just fighting.
Ta-Nehisi Coates kicked off his NY Times column with a piece called You Left Out the Part About … — while he loved the film, the lack of coverage of the civil rights movement bothered him:

When we left the theater, my son and I knew we had experienced the most thrilling movie of the summer. “First Class” is narratively lean, beautifully acted and, at all the right moments, visually stunning. But I had experienced something else. 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?

In his Atlantic column, he expanded a bit:

But in a broader sense, I wasn’t really interested in how X-Men comports with the liberal dream of America, so much as I was interested in the fact that the X-Men were conceived during the same year as the March on Washington, the same year Malcolm X gave his “Message To The Grassroots” speech, the same year Medgar Evers was shot, the same year white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Susana Polo looks at the gender politics at The Mary Sue.

But the movie does hint at the inequality of women in the era… and it does so offhandedly. Moira McTaggert, a woman who has already managed to defeat enough prejudice to become a CIA Agent, wears full on Emma Frost Playboy Bunny style lingerie while on a stakeout (it is possible that she planned it, knowing her targets would be inside a casino, but the movie does not imply this). The transgressions of male characters against the women around them are played mostly for laughs: Moira’s gender is routinely mocked by her superiors in front of her as if she was not present, Shaw snidely asks Emma Frost to freshen up his drink, and while we are certainly not invited to side with the jerks at the CIA or Sebastian Shaw, neither are we invited to see Moira and Emma’s struggle for equality as being in any way a parallel or similar struggle as that of the mutant race.

We’ve yet to catch XM:FC yet — oh schedule! — but perhaps it creeps closer to an actual great movie about superheroes.

  1. Wow, do folks agree with Polo that we weren’t invited to side with Frost and McTaggert? Did it really take additional comment for the viewer to side with them?

    Especially in McTaggert’s case… the boss who ripped on her was a nameless supporting character. McTaggert already won the argument, in the movie, by having a major role.

    I definitely took those scenes as opportunities to feel more sensitive to the movies leading women.

  2. It’s like Polo noticed all the feminist acknowledgements and then misread them. Shaw forcing Emma to freshen his drink was clearly seen as a putdown beneath her dignity; and if Moira wasn’t wearing her lingerie as part of a plan to infiltrate the Hellfire club, why did she only have a raincoat on over it in the stakeout car?

    What about the actual moments of sexism and racism: the one black mutant, Darwin (a cab driver) dies for no reason, and the one Hispanic mutant, Angel (a stripper), converts to the bad side.

    Furthermore, how can anyone miss all the discussion of Raven accepting her dark blue skin as a barely veiled racial metaphor?


    I wonder if that’s why Darwin sacrifices himself? I also wonder if that’s why we have Angel Salvadore and not Warren Worthington III? I know somethings are done for stories sake however I can’t help but wonder if this is X-Men Mad Men style.

  4. I think that Mad Man was not far from the filmmakers’ minds–the presence of January Jones would pretty much guarantee that.

    Minor spoiler: Emma’s attitude during the seduction of the Soviet general packed in a great deal of commentary about gender roles.

    The film doesn’t have Warren Worthington because, surprisingly, it’s (mostly) in continuity with the four earlier X-movies, and Warren appears as a teenager in the early 2000s. Its continuity is not the comics’ continuity–Alex is obviously no longer Scott’s brother–but it’s internally pretty consistent.

  5. Alex could still be Scott’s brother as he was referred to in the jail scene as Alex Summers, it maybe more in line with the Ultimate X-Men continuity where Alex is older than Scott.

  6. *I* certainly took the displays of (what we used to call) “male chauvanism” as overt opportunities by the filmmakers to remind older views and educate younger viewers about what sexist pricks men were allowed to be in the 1960s.

    It’s easy to pick apart of a film like this for “not doing enough”, because they never can. And we should point out those missed opportunities, or how they fall into the same old tropes of “the black guy dies”. But this film did address race and gender inequality, the earlier X-film did address the sexual orientation parallels, and they deserve credit for doing so.

  7. Shawn – I know the movie has been out for a little bit now but a spoiler warning would have been appreciated.

  8. I’ve never really gotten the need for spoilers on a page discussing a released film critically, but do you mean before any sort of plot points? I’m afraid I’m of the school of avoid the topic on the internet until you go see it if that’s a concern.

  9. One woman reviewer (linked to at whenfangirlsattack, natch) was offended that the mutants practiced their powers by destroying female mannequins.

  10. Oh, those women reviewers! When will they show the appropriate gratitude for offhanded “feminist acknowledgements” that hint at larger issues before fizzling into jokey nothingness?

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