Friday, June 10, 2011

X-Men First Class: We Don't Need No Stinking Allegories

I wanted to give X-Men First Class some time to settle in my brain before I wrote down my opinions about it.  There have been a lot of fantastic responses on the internets regarding the portrayal of race and gender in a movie set in a time very unfriendly to people of color and women (more unfriendly than now), and they said a lot of what I was thinking.

There has also been a lot of talk about the continued use of the X-Men movies as an allegory for the struggle of GLBT people.

The day before I went to see the movie, I read a review on (spoilers!):
These gay parallels were edgy and interesting in 2003 (and in 2000, when the first X-Men movie came out). But in 2011? It hasn't just been done — it's about as far from edgy as you can get. Why not an actualgay mutant, not just mutants as metaphors for gays? Even the "assimilation or separatist" debate has long since been settled by most GLBT folks.
Ignoring that last statement, which is completely ridiculous and fodder for another post all together, I think that's a valid question.  Har har, there was a "Don't Ask Don't Tell" joke nearly a year after it was overturned.  Timely!  Don't worry though, that guy's in love with a lady (who likes ladies also, but only in the comics and not in the movies... yet), so you won't have to actually see anything involving same-sex affection.  Whew!

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internets, I started to see a lot of fan reaction from a lot of people talking about the chemistry of Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender).  Not just saying they had good chemistry, or that they were great in their roles - there was that too - but sexualizing the interaction they had with each other.

What really blew me away about this was people with fairly progressive and critical mindsets walking out of a movie that's arguably about the terrible way we treat people who are different and deciding to fetishize the relationship between two men.  And a few times actually getting defensive when called on it, criticizing people who didn't hold the same opinion.

If you're a comic fan, you may remember when Hal Jordan, in A Cry For Justice, mentioned having a threesome with Lady Blackhawk and Huntress.  There was a lot of intra-community backlash, including a lot of people asking why two women can't just have a friendship without there being anything sexual about it.

I started to feel guilty about my reaction to the First Class stuff and my discomfort with the way people - mostly women, from what I saw - were sexualizing something that, to me, was platonic.  After all, I completely hone in on subtext between two women all the time.  I've been doing it since Xena: Warrior Princess, and I still do it in Rizzoli & Isles.

But then I realized: I'm looking for representation.  Representation of me and the kind of relationships that I have.  I'm not looking for two women to have sex to titillate me.  I'm looking for myself on the screen.  And I'm not finding me there.

Look at me, I'm back at my point.

I don't think we need gay parallels in movies.  I don't think we need allegories anymore.  I think we need actual legitimate, well-written, three dimensional lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters on our screens.

The X-Men titles have a few that could be used.  One was already in the movie. Mystique is interesting!  She can change her gender at will, and has been in at least one long-term relationship with a woman.  But we don't see any of that.  We see a girl with low self-esteem who throws herself at men.  Okay.

People like me, the people who have longed for representation in the media we love,  could use some real stories.  Maybe the X-Men movies aren't the place to get those stories.  But don't pretend.  It's 2011, and we don't need allegories any more.  We need our stories.

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