|Posted by Makani Themba Nixon|
May 29th, 2006
I came out of the latest installment of the X-Men movie series, “The Last Stand,” like most fans of the comic book: deeply disappointed. Some were upset by the limited screen time of aficionado favorites like Angel (precursor to Archangel) while others lamented the two dimensional vilification of Magneto, X-Men antagonist and leader for mutant self determination. My own issue has been smoldering over the entire series – the disempowerment and basic all around “girlification” of X-Men leader Storm.
Given the name Ororo, Stan Lee fashioned Storm much like the Yoruba-based deity Oya whose powers, like Storm, also include control over weather. Although Lee’s Storm hails from East Africa and Oya out of West Africa, Storm’s many Black fans have long reconciled the differences on their own terms through a growing body of writing on “fantasy noir” sites across the web.
Why would filmmakers cast the coquettish Berry to play the fierce and dominating Storm in the first place? Given the fact that the film was put out by Fox, one might suspect the worst. However, one can only surmise that the filmmakers thought that the only Black heroine to star in a major comic book franchise would be too much for moviegoers. And that’s too bad.
The comic book Storm’s cold blooded, self assured fearlessness conjures up more of a Grace Jones than the cowering, wimpy character Berry brings to the screen. According to a recent interview, Berry expressed concern about the role saying she hoped to do more than ‘go get the plane’ in the trilogy’s final installment (Washington Post, “Halle Storm,” May 27, 2006)
“All I ever wanted was for Storm to have a point of view. She’s a strong woman and a strong character — very opinionated while being the earth mother of the group. A woman who is from Africa, who has strong feelings about being in this country and being not only discriminated against but dealing with her mutation, which was revered in her country, but looked down upon in this one. All I wanted was for her to have a voice.”
And Berry does give her voice but one that bears little resemblance to the Storm that helped make the comic book franchise the most popular of all time.
X-Men creator Stan Lee first conceived of the series as an allegory about race relations in the United States. The two leading characters Professor X and Magneto represented Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X respectively and the emergence of mutants in his fictional world was a direct parallel to the struggle for racial justice in the real world.
The comic book deftly explored tensions between integration and self determination, of “otherness” and gender issues while providing some of the most interesting and complex characters in mainstream comic genre. Storm’s character was a bright spot in the relentless denigration of Black women in media. She is tough, unapologetic, strong; a warrior in every sense of the word.
The movie series has stripped Storm of her power and the storyline of all its potency. Lee’s artful portrayals of the complex relationships among mutants across the continuum of the political spectrum are reduced to two dimensional good versus evil. Exploration of important X-Men themes like self determination and the costs of assimilation are muted in favor of jingoism and patriarchy. Although the plot (based on the comic classic “Dark Phoenix”) offered plenty of opportunities to explore questions of identity and difference and still blow up enough stuff to make bank, filmmakers took the potent dilemma of a mutant “cure” and turned it into an hour long commercial for targeted bio weapons.
There is one woman with “power” in the film, Jean Grey’s alter ego Phoenix (played by Famke Janssen). To drive home the point that such power should be controlled by wiser, paternal forces, the plot was changed from the comic book to have Jean kill two key characters while “under the influence” of Phoenix. Presumably, viewers would have fewer questions about what side to choose if they made even her sexual urges evil. As a result, a story about fierce women and their struggle to step into their power becomes little more than anti-feminist propaganda.
With so few powerful images of women in media much less Black women, X-Men provided filmmakers with a rich opportunity. What they did with it is nothing less than travesty.