X-Men: First Class – A Commentary on ‘Difference’
[originally published June 16, 2011.]
Be Mutant and proud.
Raven/Mystique in X-Men: First Class
I had to think about writing this. See, it is one thing to watch a film and imagine this is how one would react to ‘difference’ and it is another to be on the receiving end of prejudice, intolerance and utter indifference. Not to get bitchy about this, but most people are gross about disability. I identified with Professor X – I’m in a wheelchair suddenly, and have a PhD. Like Raven, image has become an issue. I feel empowered by this film and the very positive message about ‘difference’ but I’m also realistic and our world just doesn’t value ‘otherness.’
Plot: In 1963, Charles Xavier starts up a school and later a team, for humans with superhuman abilities. Among them is Erik Lensherr, his best friend… and future archenemy.
Magneto/Erik was a very interesting character to me. His back-story includes the Holocaust with its notion of a perfect human race. While this is not a review, but a commentary, I will point out certain elements. This film combines real history with fantasy. That is a part of what makes it so fascinating. The lack of diversity (race, sexuality, class…) however, is truly surprising.
I love that Magneto/Erik continually validated Raven/ Mystique’s true image. Raven/Mystique keeps altering her image so that she’s not blue but a very pretty human-type. Like Raven/ Mystique I alter my image but through avatars. I use previous photos of myself or other pictures that I like. I am not brave enough to step in front of the curtain. I know that I want to be thought of as beautiful as-is and Erik embodied a wonderful attitude. On many levels, it is liberating to be oneself. I keep thinking of the boxes we squeeze ourselves into. Frankly, I feel badly for many people.
The philosophy of ‘difference’ that the X-Men films espouse is incredibly important. I embrace my status as ‘other’ in a culture that validates the ‘same.’ Most people really do not get my attitude and if I thought like most people my physicality would be a tragedy and not an opportunity to live a different kind of life. In my book, Who Knew? I say; “I am not living with pain, I do not have cancer, I do not have a debilitating terminal disease. I may not have the same body as you, but I am LUCKY.” Man, I do sound like a Mutant.
Charles Xavier is my hero and role-model. A blog asks, “How can the wheelchair be other than a placeholder for tragedy or negativity?“ (http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/dram.2007.51.4.80) He would be the answer. I have a four year old nephew who made me a birthday card made up of stickers and crayons. One of the stickers was of Charles Xavier. A four year old aligned us. I am very humbled by this connection but honestly, I have also thought about it. I like that this film shows Charles Xavier’s previous state. I share a short film I made and love that it shows who I was ( http://vimeo.com/16226762). I’m much more of an evolution or progression person than a before and after type but I’d be delusional not to see a marker of change.
In Who Knew? I say, “I am now a different version of the old me. To move on, it is necessary to accept the present changes… I have agreed to do a documentary, and maybe showing people that it’s possible to get past challenges will help. Going on camera looking and sounding like this is very hard, but it is worth it if I can reach people. In the Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming), a curtain is removed to reveal what the actual wizard looks like. The camera is lifting my curtain.
I do enjoy it when people see what I have done, but I keep thinking that my writing right now is equally and maybe more so, incredible. My physicality is diminished, but in other respects I am achieving quite a bit.”
The ideas in the X-Men films about revealing true identity, the conflict about ‘coming out’ resonates for many groups in our culture. This is right in front of many people but they refuse to see it. To say many attitudes about certain groups bugs me is a great understatement. I find homophobia, racism, misogyny etc. intolerable. That is partly why the X-Men films are very important. They provide a framework for tolerance and acceptance.
Prequels are very precarious and usually bad. I was cautious about this film. The 60’s aesthetic rocks and the story, acting and cinematography are fabulous. What a great surprise! I found the origins of our characters very interesting. I adore this franchise and this film is my icing on the cake.
Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are online.