(NOTE: BEFORE YOU READ FURTHER I SHOULD WARN YOU THAT THE PROCEEDING BLOG WILL, UNDOUBTEDLY CONTAIN SEVERAL SPOILERS!)
My interest in XMen (beyond the average realms of film/comic fandom) actually harks back to my dissertation, the topic of which was ‘Disability In Media’, a fairly enjoyable topic to write on for the literature review at least.
Finding past writers opinions on television and film portrayals of disability was both challenging and interesting, in the end I was forced to prove my points by cross referencing both psychological and sociological aspects (yeah, for a geek such as myself, it was exciting!). Long story short I was having trouble choosing one particular film to concentrate my thesis on. That is, until I ran into a friend of mine in the library, I told him I was struggling, and what with, to which he replied that he’d always considered the XMen films to be a good portrayal of disability.
This jolted me.
I had, of course seen all the XMen film but had never really thought about them in depth, such as this, to me they were simply fun, action-packed (slightly cliched) family films – as I’m sure is the case for most other people. However this revelation allowed me to watch them again through fresh eyes. To my surprise, after doing a bit of research I found quite a lot had already been written to link disability and the XMen films. Using this I was able to finish my dissertation within a few days: however this broadened perspective came at a price.
Anyone who’s done media or film studies will know this, once you’ve got the knack of breaking down films to their element, you can’t help but apply the same tactic to every other film you come across – especially if that film happens to be from the same franchise. Hence I avoided seeing First Class in cinema’s, or watching the dvd when it became available (and my older brother kindly lent it to us) all the time knowing that eventually temptation would get the better of me, and that I would undoubtedly dislike the film when that happened.
Well, anyway, the day finally came about a week ago, when, out of pure boredom, I took to perusing the itunes store ‘films’ section. I came across XMen: First Class and thought ‘why not.’
The film in itself is nothing special: a mildly entertaining action/sci-fi, slightly too slowly paced for my liking, and about as well written as any other prequel you care to mention. As with the previous films the plot line is largely based upon the mutants battle for acceptance into ‘normal’ society. (A feat comparable to a disabled persons struggle to adapt to fit into the society around us. A difficult task as that society has a tendency of moving so quickly that anyone not quite staying-instep is either overlooked or simply left behind.)
The prequel, aptly named ‘First Class’ is then based upon the premise of Professor Charles Xavier (Professor X), enlisting the help of his good friend Raven (Mystique) and new friend and – for want of a better word – partner, Erik Lensherr (Magneto) to help him gather up and train a group of mutants. This is under orders from the US government, who ask Charles to gather a team together, in order to foil the plans of another mutant who hopes to create World War 3, and destroy all humans.
Predictable. Especially having seen the first three films. Luckily it’s neither my duty, nor intent, to provide an ‘in-depth’ review of the film, so I’ll leave that up to you. However, as indicated above, I would like to look at this film from a disabled perspective, so I’ll just dive right into that now.
As with the first three films I found Mystique the most relatable character overall, so it’s her role I’ll concentrate on. Mystique’s always had my respect for her ballsy ‘take me as I am, or jog on’ persona.
For anyone who’s neither seen the films or read the comics, Mystique is a blue, scaled woman, with orange, serpentine, eyes, and bright red hair. Her ‘disability’ then, would be best described as ‘cosmetic’, or ‘congenital‘. Her superpower however, is that she can take whatever form she likes: male/female, adult/child, and she can imitate that person brilliantly, down to their voice. Now, of course, many would argue that such a power more than makes up for her ‘impairment’, she can look as beautiful as she wants, so she should. Simple. Problem solved.But why? Why should she? To make others feel more at ease seems to be the answer. Sorry, her answer to that would be a direct ‘no’. Actually my favourite section in any of the XMen films is relevant here; it’s the 2nd film, where Mystique and The Incredible Nightcrawler are stood together near the camp where the mutants are taking shelter for the night. Nightcrawler (a blue character, with tridactylous feet and a long forked tail) asks Mystique, if she can look and sound like a ‘normal’ person all the time, why she doesn’t do just that? Her response: “Because we shouldn’t have to.”
At this point of the film, I always have the urge to punch the air, and scream out: ‘Right on sister!’
When first introduced to us this time however, the difference in her character is quite startling; this is most probably because this time she is introduced to us, first as a child. Then later when she has grown into a young adult and, after all, who can honestly say they have the same self-confidence at the age of 30 that they did aged 20?
Nevertheless I couldn’t quite quite warm to this meeker more introverted persona of hers. I felt she was repressing herself in order to be accepted. And she was. Hardly surprising as that’s just what Professor X, Beast (and no doubt countless other characters that didn’t make it into the movie) encourage her to do.
Disguise yourself and what you truly are if you want to function in our ‘normal’ society. Otherwise you WILL be outcast. is basically the message with which she’s constantly bombarded. There’s actually an extremely awkward moment in the film where after morphing into her natural blue form, Mystique asks Prof. X (whom she obviously fancies) if he’d date her. Without looking up from his paper he replies: “Of course, you’re beautiful.”
At which she asks: “No, I mean like this.”
The professor looks up at her, shifts uncomfortably, and answers: “You’re, blue.”
So… that’s a no then.
And there’s an even more uncomfortable moment in which Hank McCoy (Beast) presents Mystique with a ‘cure’ to their cosmetic problems (Hank has prehensile feet). Mystique refuses the cure and asks Hank to reconsider taking it himself, as she no longer believes they should have to hide who they are or how they look in order to be accepted into society. However, Hank states the belief that his feet, and Mystique’s natural blue form, will never be accepted as beautiful.
My question here is constantly: why not? Taking their mutations out of the context presented and thinking of them as the disabilities that they represent, why on earth can’t you be both disabled and beautiful?
It came as no surprise to me then, when Mystique left Professor X to join Magneto at the end of the film. There’s a hilarious How It Should Have Ended film floating about YouTube, based on XMen: First Class. During which the makers basically point out how unlikely they find it that Mystique would abandon Charles right when he needs her (he’s paralysed by a refracting bullet at the end of the film). However, having seen the film I would say that I’d actually find it more unbelievable if she’d have stayed. The basic truth of the film is, non of the XMen could truly accept Mystique in her natural form, whereas Erik did.
When propositioned by her, sexually, Magneto (Erik) says he prefers her natural blue form to her human form. As, in his opinion, that is beautiful. After being, in a sense, oppressed for her entire life, even by those whom she loved, it must have been gratifying beyond words to have someone who accepted her as she was, without disguise.
True, that is a common goal amongst most people. To find someone to love, and who’ll hopefully love you too in spite of how: mad, stupid, nasty, unfunny, clingy, reserved, temperamental, ugly, etc. you are, or can be. But for Mystique, and the rest of the disabled community, it’s about more than just that, it’s about their acceptance of who you are, the way you are, and whatever challenges may arise because of that. Erik accepted all of these things with Mystique. Something that Charles, and the other XMen, either could not, or would not do. Instead they sort to hide themselves away, and encouraged others to take the same path.
Personally, I have neither the energy nor the desire to do this, I’m not normal, what is normal anyway? I’m quite proudly abnormal, and if that means I stick out from the crowd, so be it. I’m not ashamed to do so. This is what the brotherhood promotes, and that is why I would gladly join their cause over the XMen. As Mystique says to Beast in her last line of the film: “Remember Beast, mutant, and proud.”
Well, I’m disabled, and proud.
Originally posted on my tumblr in 2012