I love the X-Men with all my heart, but the film universe exhausts me. As much as I enjoy aspects of it, on the whole, we’re talking about two decades of tokenism and cynically exploitative use of minorities. The post I linked to was about Jubilee in Apocalypse, but the issue is so much broader than that – the treatment of Storm, Darwin, and Psylocke. The shameless queerbaiting and use of scenes reminiscent of a person coming out without ever including an LGBTQ character, to the point of going out of their way to exclude one (Karma, in The New Mutants). Turning the universe that has traditionally been about oppression and discrimination into what’s mostly just a set of generic action movies and focusing excessively on Wolverine, the one character that’s doesn’t fit into that theme. It’s a clear sign that Fox needs to let minorities tell their own stories, and one of the directors that I think would be well suited to do so is Mira Nair.
Nair has been producing consistently good work for years, and she’s been doing it completely unapologetically. For whatever reason, despite her long career and good work, she’s not a huge name. Possibly, it’s because of the type of movies she directs – even when she’s working with a big studio, her works come across much more indie than anything else. She doesn’t do the big, blockbuster type things. She turned down directing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because it interfered with The Namesake. She’s worked with Reese Witherspoon, Lupita N’yongo, Denzel Washington, and several other big name actors, but her movies are the sort of low budget, understated pieces that fly under the radar, even if she doesn’t have much of a specific “type” of movie. All of that means that her making an X-Men movie would be unlikely, but also that she’d be perfect for the job.
Nair isn’t a huge name to the general public, but her work matters – her 1992 movie, Mississippi Masala, was one of the reasons Kal Penn started acting, because it was through her that he could see people that looked like him on the screen. Her movies are filled with heart without being saccharine or overly sentimental. She doesn’t shy away from hard truths, nor does she present grim, hopeless stories. As such, she’d be able to capture what the X-Men and the mutants mean to a whole lot of comics fans and depict the seriousness of the mutant metaphor without making a movie that’s just more of the allegorical minorities suffering endless persecution.
Nair has demonstrated repeatedly that she’s capable of telling this story, because the core of the X-Men is supposed to be civil rights, discrimination, oppression, family, and Nair’s body of work shows off her ability handle those issues very well. The Namesake is a story about family and a character struggling to find himself, just like most stories of new people joining the X-Men or manifesting their mutation. Mississippi Masala is a romance that also takes on race relations and intercommunity racism without ever falling into the trap of treating any group as a monolith – if Nair were to direct an X-Men movie, she’d be well suited to illustrating the perspectives of the different factions without glossing over any of the flaws.
Give me more personal, emotional, human X-Men stories. Take a step back from destruction and the deaths of all the X-Men (twice was too many times, I can’t take that again) and go back to the stories teammates and friends, students and teachers, found families. The X-Men were built on relationships between characters, and Mira Nair bringing them to life in a movie would be a delight to watch.