New Mutants Movie: Illusions of Diversity
Over half a year ago I talked about how the upcoming New Mutants movie–which was still in the early stages of development–did not choose to include the character Xi’an Coy Manh/Karma in the team lineup. Karma was a founding member of the New Mutants team, but throughout her publication history, she has been sidelined by writers who did not know how to incorporate her and her powers in their stories. To see her ignored by director Josh Boone and the Fox executives in charge of the X-Men film franchise, although not surprising, was still disappointing. I felt this issue was extremely significant at the time because earlier that same month the social media tag #whitewashedOUT was trending on Twitter. Karma is one of the few Asian characters in mainstream comics and happens to be first openly gay character ever. She’s an important feature in comics whether certain writers believe so or not.
Well, with the first official sneak peek at the upcoming movie, Fox and the producers of X-Men have let me down again. This past November, a storyboard animatic was released to ComingSoon.net. The animatic confirmed reports that the film’s antagonist will be the Demon Bear, who draws his power from negative human emotion. But it also confirmed a perception I have that, honestly, I’d really rather not: New Mutants will continue the trend of ignoring/silencing non-white characters.
The Demon Bear Saga in the New Mutant comics is very short–lasting only three issues (#18-#20)–but remains a fan favourite because the powerhouse team of writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz created a stunning comic arc. The character of the Demon Bear is first introduced in New Mutant #3 as Native American character Danielle “Dani” Moonstar/Mirage is haunted by the recent death of her parents at the hand of the spirit. It’s not until issue #18 when Dani goes toe-to-toe with the Demon Bear that she ends up knocked out and hospitalized for the rest of the comic arc. In the storyboard animatic, the only thing we see of Dani is her being carted around, unconscious, by friend and teammate Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane in (what I assume is) the Xavier Institute. This is where my issues with this story arc, in particular, come up: Are we going to watch a comatose Mirage for the majority of the movie?
The comic obliviously had its faults. The actual Demon Bear arc didn’t have much of Dani, who is the person most affected by the spirit. Instead, her friends fought to defeat the bear in the Badlands. Her only communication when she’s unconscious was through her bond with Wolfsbane because of her secondary mutation that allows her to understand animals. It’s really a standout story for team member Illyana Rasputin/Magik, who has since become a favourite and staple of recent comics since her resurrection in the 2000s. I’m sure her current popularity is also factor in why she was chosen to be in the movie line up.
Josh Boone, who is one of the writers of New Mutants and is set to direct the film, has reassured fans that he also reads the comics. So we have nothing to worry about, right? If that’s true, I hope he’s able to see the flaws that the comics have instead of staying loyal for the sake of comic book purist fans. Sure, Karma was not been on the team during the Demon Bear arc. That’s a fair reason to leave her off the team, I guess. But by that time Amara Aquilla/Magma was on the team. Why isn’t she in the movie? Is it because there would too many women on the team then? Or is having two fire-based mutants in one movie too much? Or maybe it’s just more simple to stick to the Five-Man Band trope we’re used to seeing.
No matter why Boone chose the lineup he did, I just don’t want to see Dani sleeping through the film like the animatic suggests. Maybe with the rumours of James McAvoy reprising his role as Professor Xavier–who was only featured in the last pages of New Mutants #20 and didn’t help the kids in the story arc–we’ll be able to get a glimpse into the mind of Mirage as she has her own fight against the Demon Bear. Look, I know I’m grasping at straws here just so I can be proven wrong! I WANT TO BE WRONG ABOUT THIS MOVIE.
One of the things that makes Claremont’s New Mutants stand out is the attention to detail the writer/creator put into his characters. When readers are introduced to Roberto da Costa/Sunspot, another boy, who had a lighter skin tone, is making fun of him for being mixed-race and having darker skin. This division between people in Brazil is very real and continues to this day. It was a revolutionary topic to write about for readers who might not have known the segregation Brazilians face within their own country. Since then, Roberto has been whitewashed in almost every comic appearance since and is no longer visually identifiable as Afro-Latino. Same with the detail of how Xi’an spoke English in a French accent even though she was from Vietnam, because she grew up after French Indochina dissolved. Remnants of French culture still remained in small pockets throughout the region. Although the older comics have their foibles (Latinx characters’ “fiery” temperament connected to their mutation is very common), they still have thought about more inclusion of visible minorities than the films ever have.
The X-Men films don’t seem to know what to do with the characters who aren’t Charles and Erik, especially LGBTQIA+ characters and women. Their biggest box office draw, Wolverine, seems lost in the mix even when they’re shining a spotlight on him. Logan director James Mangold reported that Fox executives didn’t even know about the character Laura Kinney/X-23, who has become a huge draw for both comic-loyal fans and average film viewers. In Days of Future Past, they chose to cast Mexican actor Adan Canto for the role of Roberto da Costa/Sunspot, who, as I stated earlier, is a Brazilian and Afro-Latino character. With Mangold’s revelation with how the X-Men film franchise is being handled, it would surprise me if the producers didn’t even know that Sunspot is not Hispanic. This level of lazy ignorance from Hollywood is not uncommon. In the Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the character Dong Nguyen, who is Vietnamese, is played by Korean-American actor Ki Hong Lee. To white-dominated and controlled Hollywood, these little “differences” are minor, like the characters people of colour are often portraying.
In March of 2016, Uproxx reported that the first new cast members to join the New Mutants film would be Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) as Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) as Illyana Rasputin/Magik. More recently, The Hashtag Show obtained the casting call showing that Fox has not confirmed Williams and/or Taylor-Joy for their respected roles. But they did verify that out of the five-member team, only Dani Moonstar has been cast. Maybe this priority for casting Mirage is a sign that the movie will involve her more than the comic did. Again, I’m searching for that silver lining.
I said at the end of my New Mutants Karma piece, even though the X-Men are my favourite comic book characters and I’ve been a devout fan of the film franchise for decades now–even through all the terrible dreck they shove into production haphazardly–I won’t be swayed so easily anymore. My faith started to waver after I saw X-Men: First Class, in which a black man was killed for no reason but for the Nice White People™ to feel sad, most women were only motivated when a man gave them approval, and the blatant queer baiting. With the exclusion of Karma, there will be no canon character that identifies within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and with Mirage unconscious, the cast is reduced to one person of colour (Sunspot, depending on casting) given dialog. I guess all I can hope for is that this X-Men movie will pass the Bechdel Test. But yeah, shouldn’t have high hopes for a franchise that hasn’t included minorities equally in its over 15-year history.