X-Men Adaptations And The All But Inevitable Disappointment

I’ve brought up my issues with The Gifted repeatedly. And almost every time, it’s been through the lens of I love The Gifted, but…Not this time,though. After “afterMath”, I’m out. I can’t defend this anymore.

I’ve been iffy on this season from the beginning. The writing hasn’t been good, the character work has been sloppy at best, and the themes became a mess when they started trying to make the classic X-Men vs Brotherhood conflict work in a setting without either the X-Men or the Brotherhood. I kept watching, though, because I love the X-Men, Emma Dumont was doing an awesome job as Lorna, and the quality of the first season gave me hope that it would improve. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and while I can forgive moments of bad writing, I can’t forgive comparing people fighting against oppression to Nazis.

It’s really fucked up to compare the Inner Circle’s goals of a mutant homeland where members of a persecuted minority aren’t getting murdered on the streets to “Hitler’s big dreams”. Especially when one of the members is Lorna – you know, the half Jewish daughter of a man whose entire family was murdered by Nazis. Under some circumstances, I would probably assume this was intentional – an example of the members of the underground being so caught up in their issues that they got distracted from who the real enemy was – and give the writers the benefit of the doubt for another episode or two. After all, this comparison occurred in the same episode where Purifiers stormed a clinic looking for mutants and threatened the staff. The same episode where a roomful of those Purifiers started chanting “they will not replace us”, a sentiment that was instantly and terrifyingly recognizable. But if this season of The Gifted has proven anything to me, it’s that I shouldn’t give the writers any such benefit.

So much of this season has been about why the Inner Circle is wrong, even though they haven’t done much to be wrong about, or why their methods are evil. And sure, killing people is obviously bad. But that’s one of the biggest Captain Obvious Aesops I’ve ever heard. It’s the smug cowardice of centrists, the idea that “oh, taking a stand against oppression just means we’re sinking to their level!” Every time someone has been uneasy with what the group they’ve allied themselves with is doing this season, it’s been a member of the Inner Circle. The underground is still too busy being self righteous to consider the fact that they aren’t helping. If that weren’t the case, I’d be willing to wait for the season to play out. But it’s not. So I’m not.

you tell 'em magneto
Magneto (AKA the most famous Jewish character in comics) not down with murderous gas clouds.

We’ve seen this same thing in comics for years. Characters referred to Cyclops as “mutant Hitler” for destroying a toxic gas cloud that was killing mutants. Very obviously not Hitlerian at all, right? You would think so. But the writers, despite obviously recognizing what that whole storyline brought to mind, continued to behave as if Scott was a genocidal terrorist, rather than the guy trying to save lives. I am not even remotely down for watching a similar story play out with Lorna in live action.

It’s disappointing. The Gifted began with a huge amount of potential. And even this episode had a lot going for it – the themes of police brutality, the Purifiers, Jace Turner, the contrast between Rebecca’s desire to see the world burn after gaining her freedom and the other mutant’s forgiveness of the jury that put her in the mental hospital. But that one line, casually comparing the Inner Circle to Nazis, on top of the way there are more PoC as extras in the Sentinel Services and Purifiers than with any mutant group…it just goes to show that the writers don’t really understand the issues they’re trying to represent. And I’m done hoping that’s going to change.

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The Jubilee Problem in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

It’s been a year and a half, and I’m kind of still bitter of the way Apocalypse handled  Jubilee. Not even because she was basically a glorified extra, but because of the sheer exploitativeness of it all. No one would have had any objections to Jubilee not being in Apocalypse. She was in the original trilogy, however briefly. She’s always been a part of the younger generation. She should be a contemporary of Kitty, not of Scott. She’s one of the older X-Men’s students and future teammate, not their peer. There is plenty of canonical basis for her not being around yet. No one would have expected her or been upset that she wasn’t included. But she was.

She was brought into Apocalypse, which also could have been fine if handled properly. But it wasn’t. They brought in Lana Condor, who was very excited about the role, and advertised the hell out of her to get other people excited, too. To an extent, that’s how the film industry works. But it also felt tasteless to exploit a group’s thirst for representation so blatantly. She didn’t have a big role. She was in the movie for a few minutes before being left behind, without even using her powers once. That didn’t stop the studio from promoting her as if  she were a main character.

There’s a whole page on TV Tropes dedicated to the concept of advertising a character that doesn’t end up appearing much. Most of the time, though, that happens because said character is played by a popular actor, or, in the case of comics/their adaptations, are themselves a popular character. In Apocalypse, it wasn’t either of those. Jubilee was Lana Condor’s first role, and while she’s a well known and reasonably well liked character, she’s not really one of the A-List. In fact, opinions of her tend to be highly polarized. She was essentially the attempt at creating a Kitty Pryde of the 90s, and Kitty Pryde is one of the most popular X-Men. So the advertising in the film? That was pretty clearly an attempt at capitalizing on the lack of and desire for Asian representation.

I personally can’t say I really care about Jubilee one way or the other. For a variety of reasons, she’s never really resonated with me. But she’s an Asian female character in a film universe dominated by white people. She’s a character a lot of people have grown up with. She’s a character that a lot of people were excited to see. The X-Men film franchise has a diversity problem despite being about diversity. The Gifted has handled said issue much more competently, and the contrast is painfully clear. Diversity is more than just black and white. We can’t keep having X-Men movies with an all white cast except for one token black character. It’s time to move past that and actually embrace the spirit of what the X-Men have represented for decades: diversity and civil rights.

Exclusion and Covert Racism: Canada’s Relationship With Minorities

During the leadership race of the New Democratic Party of Canada, there was a great deal of racism directed towards the man that eventually won, Jagmeet Singh. You wouldn’t know it from the way it was covered, though. Jennifer Bush and her heckling were what got the attention of the general public, something that the general public could decry. That was the story that got international attention. But that wasn’t remotely the only racism Singh’s campaign dealt with. Continue reading “Exclusion and Covert Racism: Canada’s Relationship With Minorities”

Call Out Culture, Social Justice, and Missing the Point

I will never argue against the need to be critical of people and media that advance racist, sexist, or homophobic ideas. Tackling ignorance is important, and these ideas are legitimately harmful. But there comes a time where it’s just disingenuous, and people are calling others out not from desire to eliminate those ideas, but to demonstrate their own intelligence and purity.

A week or two ago, an old quote allegedly from Ben Affleck resurfaced where he made what was probably a joke about kissing another man being the most difficult challenge an actor can face. If Affleck said that at all – which, how would we know, this is a secondhand quote – it was twenty years ago. He was a clueless early twenty something in the nineties. Lots of people say or do dumb things. If he ever believed that, he pretty clearly doesn’t now.

I’m not defending the quote. It was a dumb thing to say, and it was in poor taste. But it’s been twenty years since then. It would be one thing to bring it up if we were talking about someone that has never given any indication of growing as a person. But Affleck? We’re talking about a man that defends Muslims against bigots; that makes intelligent, well reasoned arguments about social and political issues without having to just resort to buzzwords and personal attacks; a man that just the day before people decided to Tweet about his twenty year old quote had won a humanitarian award for his work in supporting local charities in Congo. You know what should get more attention than that quote? The East Congo Initiative! His work on that is much more recent, and much more impactful.

I don’t believe in celebrity idolization. Saying something good doesn’t make a person amazing, and nor does a stupid comment mean someone is human garbage. All people are flawed and have said or done stupid things. There are levels to stupid, too. Affleck is one of the people that has given me genuine reason to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s backed up words with action, and he stands by people that aren’t like him. I have genuine respect for someone that’s studied the topics he’s discussing and travelled to the regions in question, while never trying to become a white saviour – he recognizes that the best thing he can do, the best role he can fill, is providing support to the local charities that know what they’re doing and what they need better than he ever will.

White liberals have loved Bill Maher for a long time, despite people of colour pointing out his racism. They flat out denied his racism and claimed he’s critical of everyone, some of them even after the news broke of him using racial slurs. Affleck? He went on Maher’s show years ago and called him out for being a bigot. He used his platform to give a voice to the people that are ignored.

People bring up things like this old quote not because they legitimately care about people growing and improving but because they want points or credit for pointing out another person’s mistakes, or recognition for being a better whatever – activist, ally, feminist – than someone else. If a lot of these people really cared about making the world a better place, they’d also be doing something constructive, like also bringing more attention to good causes like the ECI. Some do.

I’m not a straight white dude trying to brush something bad under the rug because it was a straight white dude that said it. I’m saying that people are more than a stupid comment. If we judged everyone by a stupid thing they said or did when they were young and pretended that that’s all they are, we’d have to accept that there are no good people. Evan Rachel Wood Tweeted that Affleck should grow up, and many people celebrated that. But I think we should remember that he very clearly has. It’s been twenty years since then, and he’s done some very good and important humanitarian work in those twenty years.

This is about so much more than one event. This is a manifestation of a huge problem that people pretend isn’t an issue.

I cannot stand this disgusting idea that all people from a minority or a marginalized group must have the same opinion about everything as if we’re a monolith, and that if we don’t, we’re self hating or somehow don’t care about social justice. My opinion, so long as it isn’t harmful to someone else, is just as valid as someone else’s. So forgive me if I don’t feel the urge to grab a pitchfork and bring up every stupid comment a person’s ever made.

My best friend is a good person. She’s smart, she’s decent, she’s open-minded. And in the time since we’ve met, she’s grown a lot as a person. She’s a white girl that went to Catholic school. When we met? She believed abortion was murder and pretty much thought a strong female character was one that hits things. Now? She has a much better, more nuanced understanding of feminism. Part of the reason for that is that people helped her learn. If someone were to say, your best friend is problematic, she hates women, I’d yell at them, because it’s not true. She had some views years ago that she no longer has. She’s grown up. People do that – they grow, change, and learn. We should judge them on who they are now and how they’ve changed, not who they once were.

The Internet and social media is a net positive. Of course it is. It gives us instantaneous access to information, it lets us communicate with each other easily. But among the negatives is that it allows for every mistake to be seen by everyone. It makes people feel entitled to every aspect of a person’s identity, otherwise their perspective will be dismissed and they’ll be assumed white and straight if they disagree with what either the majority or the vocal minority of PoC or LGBTQ people say. I don’t owe it to anyone to share my gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, nationality, socioeconomic status, or any such identifier. I can do it if I want to, if I feel I have to, if my background is a vital part of why I feel the way I do about a topic, but I’m a person. My opinion isn’t automatically valid or invalid based on what categories I fit into. It’s valid or invalid based on the arguments I make, and personal experiences may or may not play a role in shaping those.

I don’t think being a good feminist involves this level of hypocritical – and hypercritical – fixations on pretty minor errors. That’s not a constructive way of creating a world where all people are equal and don’t face violence and discrimination, it’s lazy, and it misses the point of what social justice is supposed to stand for. People do that because it’s easy. It’s easier than confronting legal discrimination against women and members of the LGBTQ community around the world, easier than finding a solution to targeted violence and police brutality, easier than electing more diverse candidates and finding ways to give more people a platform to speak their mind.

These things aren’t equivalent and we should never pretend they are. It’s why I hate the world problematic so much – someone that makes a bad joke is put on the same level as a person that commits a violent hate crime. We can do both. Of course we can. And it’s important to both tackle the big issues and educate about the smaller scale, individual level micro-aggressions. But we can do the latter while still giving people the benefit of the doubt, because most people, lacking the necessary background, aren’t aware that they’re saying something rude or offensive. I’ve seen a lot of people say that it’s not “their job” to educate a person, and that may be true, but when it comes to smaller things – not the sweeping, big issues, but little comments or jokes – it’s easy to do and has a much more positive impact than yelling at whoever said it for being a bad person.

Some people do need to be called out for ignorance and harmful statements, for a pattern of discriminatory behaviour, for harassment and abuse. I completely support that. But I draw the line at going back years to fixate on a single comment from someone with no recent record of saying anything of the sort.