Minorities Depicted in Comic Book Filmic Adaptations

By Lipiner, Michael | CineAction, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Minorities Depicted in Comic Book Filmic Adaptations


Lipiner, Michael, CineAction


"Comics have long been more open to racially diverse characters than some other forms of art." (1) For the past 15 years, superhero comic book filmic adaptations have focused more intensely and realistically on the depiction of minorities. (2) Traditionally, most comic book characters have been Caucasian males. However, in recent years, a more competent awareness has been raised about specific minority groups that was either previously stereotyped or excluded altogether. It is therefore worthwhile to draw attention to the ways in which processes of change are currently impacting the production and reception of minority representations, especially in the art of film, OUT most popular culture (3). Although minorities are still underrepresented in the comic book universe, including its filmic adaptations, they are nonetheless obtaining more exposure and gaining the recognition they deserve.

Before and during the Second World War, unsophisticated superhero comics flourished where the Axis threat was countered by patriotic superheroes that provided "fantasies of superhuman power." (4) In subsequent decades, comics "developed characters whose superpowers made them social outcasts who had to prove their loyalty and utility to their fellow citizens." (5) As a result, many comic book characters were either forced to assimilate into American culture or rebel against mainstream society by forging a new identity with special powers and abilities. However, before the turn of the 20th century, films did not sufficiently emphasize what these comic books conveyed.

At the start of the new millennium, the X-Men film series pioneered a more realistic (and symbolic) depiction of minorities. Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is shown as a stable home to a transformative and diverse society of mutants that consist of different races, ethnicities, and national origins. They strive to gain acceptance by non-mutants (regular homo sapiens) as they ironically protect the human race from evil. Moreover, the X-Men correspond to the 'ghetto' mentality; "the isolation of mutants and their alienation from 'normal' society could be read as a parable of the alienation of any minority." (6) In doing so, the films "evoke subtly and blatantly other persecuted minorities" that raise certain sociopolitical issues amid a predominantly white and male-dominated society.

To begin with, "X-Men (2000) reflects the assim-ilationist aims, ethnic anxieties, and liberal idealism of the first-generation Jewish Americans who created the original superheroes featured M Marvel Comic Books." (8) Both X-Men (2000) and X-Men: First Class (2011) open with Magneto as a young Jewish boy who is separated from his parents by the Nazis at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Director Brian Singer even "explicitly pins a yellow star to the young Magneto after years of comics that couldn't quite bear to say whether he was Jewish or a gypsy. (9) The mutant boy is forced to use his powers as a way to deal with his justified hurt and anger. "The X-Men follow a mutant who advocates acculturation and the channeling of their superhuman abilities to defend humankind. Bryan Singer, the Jewish director of the movie, has retained the encounter with the Holocaust and the struggle against bigotry as key themes in his film." (10)

These scenes depicting the plight of the Jewish people in both films' expositions translate into the persecution and hardships of other minority characters in the subsequent film series. They effectively symbolize a post-racially divided, 21' century society that continues to deal with tolerance and social justice. As an oppressed social group, many X-Men mutants are orphans or ostracized children. They isolate themselves, which "intensifies the secret identity theme but also reflects an existentialist form of individualism." (11) Without parents, these mutants want to belong to a group that affirms their worth as a member, which attracts them to "a family of freaks" (12) possessing special powers. …

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