Twitter was a flutter (a flutter?) yesterday with the rumor that Marvel Studios is considering to cast people of color as Xavier and Magneto in the upcoming X-Men reboot.
MLK and Malcolm X: First and foremost we need to acknowledge where the inspiration for the characters came from. The two icons, and the IP itself, were born from the Civil Rights era where Charles Xavier was a reflection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Magneto was a reflection of Malcolm X. In fact, MLK gave his famous “I Have a Dream…” speech just two weeks before the release of X-Men #1 back in 1963!
The idea of two black men playing these roles truthfully isn’t a stretch at all. If anything, it fits like a glove. Of course, Magneto’s adaptation is more complicated than that of Xavier considering his history. If you’ve read the comics, or even seen the original Bryan Singer X-Men film from 2000, you know that Magneto’s origin comes from the darkness of the Holocaust. Have there been a multitude of atrocities since then? Oh, you know there has. There’s enough in the late 20th century to create a Magneto that fits the script perfectly. However, then that leaves a very uncomfortable predicament.
What Bout his History Though: Magneto’s origins from the Holocaust weren’t revealed until some time in the 1980’s in Uncanny X-Men #150. This was only some forty years since the actual events of WWII, and the retcon made sense. Though time isn’t really a factor in comics, using a staple in history as a significant character marker eventually can become a curse.
At this point, unless X-Men becomes exclusively a period piece for the MCU or they introduce someone with de-aging powers, Magneto would be an 80-90 year old man! Sure, they could do that, but narratively overall, for the future of the character, his being a Holocaust survivor becomes tricky to navigate.
Do I think that should be erased? Not at all! As someone who has worked in the field of atrocity prevention I know the importance of keeping the memory of these events alive, and continuing to tell these stories in whatever medium we can.
Does this mean I disagree with the idea of making Magneto a POC? No! I actually would love to see a character that embodies the rage of Magneto due to modern social injustices. Before Magneto was a mutant he was Jewish. His stance on the mutant/human conflict is born from his experiences. He knows the evil that humanity is capable of and believes that mankind can never learn or evolve from the behaviors it has repeated throughout history. A Magneto and Xavier that can invoke the REALITY of the discussion of race would be fantastic.
I just hate that picking one would mean the end of the other.
Is There a Middle Ground?: I personally don’t think there is. I think if you go traditional with Magneto, then the MCU is going to need to get creative about Magneto’s lack of aging. However, it would be a world full of mutants where a reality warping Wanda Maximoff exists- I’m sure it won’t be a challenge.
I do think, more than anything, this thought is making me pause on the idea of just how important the X-Men are in today’s narrative. I know, they’re a comic book. What I’m saying is, in a world full of comic book movies and and hero television shows, what better heroes than those who are hated for being different yet dedicate their energies to saving humanity anyway.