The new X-Men movie, which opens on Friday, is a prequel that takes place around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and will recalls the origins of the comic book from the early 1960s. Indeed, the X-Men first appeared as a Marvel Comic in 1963, during the peak years of the civil rights movement. The book would have debuted within a year of key events, such as the integration of the University of Mississippi, Bull Connor’s unleashing of police dogs on protestors in Birmingham, as well as JFK’s speech calling for a major civil rights bill. As a result, the “mutants” seem very clearly designed to serve as a metaphor for black Americans in this time. Charles Xavier (Professor X) and the X-Men, who want to work with humanity, represents Martin Luther King, Jr. and the integrationist wing of the movement. On the other hand, Magneto’s Brotherhood, with its doctrine of mutant supremacy, seems to represent Malcolm X and other black nationalists. Malcolm X’s profile was particularly high at this time as he appeared on TV more than anyone but President Kennedy in 1963. The connection between Malcolm and Magneto is again made in the final scene of the first X-Men film in 2000, when an imprisoned Magneto tells Xavier that he still intends to fight a war against humanity, “by any means necessary,” a famous line of Malcolm X’s.
Changing times meant that others could adjust the intolerance metaphor for new realities. In the last decade, director Bryan Singer used X1 and X2 to make the mutants a metaphor for discrimination against gays. The first film stresses the difficulties that mutants who have come forward have faced, while showing politicians trying to exploit the fear of mutants. In the second film, we see Bobby Drake (Iceman) have to “come out” to his family as a mutant, only to have his mom ask “Have you ever tried not being a mutant?” While Singer did not direct the final film, X3 revolves around a “cure” for mutancy and debates about whether the mutants should take it or not.
Looking forward to the movie this week and will have more to say afterward.