The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

You know, I’d read horrible reviews of “Last Stand” around the internet, and so was rather underwhelmed with the prospect of viewing this entry in Marvel Comic’s cinematic juggernaut (deliberate pun).  And some fo the complaints were real” too many characters, not enough personality development, special effects that looked a little rushed, etc.  But the fact is that I enjoyed it just fine on its own comic-booky level, and if you give it a chance, you might too.

The tale turns on the efforts of two master mutants: Professor Xavier, and Magneto, who are trying to find the right way for these super-powerful beings to coexist with humanity.  Along the way, they shepherd a colorful, costumed variety of godlings.  Humanity is scared, and develops a “mutant vaccine” to remove the powers.  Chaos and mucho mutant smack-down ensues.  You know, officially, that’s all I’m gonna say, and will give it a “B.”
You know? From the beginning I heard the filmmakers, as well as the audience, refer to Xavier and Magneto as the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X of the comic book world, that the struggle for Mutant rights was deliberately intended to parallel Black civil rights activity in America.  That may be, but that brings up a pet peeve of mine, one that “X-Men” flirts with.  It is the subject of Hollywood giving lip service to issues that they themselves are guilty of.  But for Halle Berry (more on her, later) the producers are in the position of making a film about women’s rights that contains no women.

Halle, by dent of her heroic willingness to sacrifice her virtue by aggressively sexing a wide variety of white guys for the cause of, well, career advancement (hell, she played Dorothy Dandridge, and understands perfectly well that without those allies, she couldn’t become a star.  Note the sexual content of Halle’s films as opposed to any black male star, and you’ll get the point rather quickly) is an honorable white woman.  Heck—she’s about a Quadroon, anyway.  So Halle, as “Storm,” represents the only “black” face in a supposed Racial metaphor. 

From the beginning, Halle’s been criticized for flat acting in “X-Men” and it seems to me that two things are happening here.
1)     Halle is an actress who needs strong direction. Without that, she flounders.  With it, she has turned in powerful, honest performances. 
2)     Actors act subtext, not text.  They also rely on relationships to expose their inner selves.

Halle ain’t getting direction. And she is the ONLY major mutant with no relationships at all.  And that has been true from the beginning.  Professor X and Magneto are old friends and adversaries.  Wolverine, Jean Grey and “Cyclops” are locked in a three-way war of affections.  Rogue is in love, and so on and so forth.

Only Halle walks alone. 

In my mind, this might go back to the comic books—I’m not sure, and readers can tell me.  But I’ve had black actors tell me over and over again that the directors they work with on television strongly resist giving black characters home lives, love lives, personal existence outside the office context of the show.  That they had to fight for every inch of it, while their white co-workers got romances and inner worlds regularly.  Sorry, I’m not going to name names here—people have to work in this industry.

I would attribute this to that old 5% disconnect I’ve talked about so much…a difficulty with acknowledging the inwardness of the “other.”  They had two choices with Halle—either put her in relationship with a white guy, or bring in a non-white character for her to relate to. 

Personally?  I think it will be years before Halle has a non-white love interest on-screen.  She’s making entirely too much money as a token, as an honorary white woman.  Not until her goodies are approaching their sell-by date (reproductively speaking) will she lower herself to romance anyone but a BWB (what Tananarive and I refer to, with the greatest of respect, cough, as a Beautiful White Boy.)  Watch and see—she is perfectly aware of why she got that Oscar, and why she has raised her career to the level of first Black female superstar.  And she’d be an idiot not to work that vein as long as she can.

But in my mind, X-Men: The Last Stand is exploiting my pain without giving me any actual strength.  They could have done that with a single black male mutant with a good line of dialogue, a personality, a touch of “Inwardness”—just once in three movies.  No.  Apparently, mother nature only mutates white people, or those with lotsa white blood.

Or those willing to live alone, unloved, in service to raising beautiful little white babies to their full and glorious potential.  Halle Berry is a Mammy?  I never would have thought it.  But there it is. 

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