Why Hollywood should leave the X-Men alone

The last post took a lot out of me. so much so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue this blog. Aside from the obvious question mark concerning readership opinion over the reveal, I was also floored about how to follow up such an admission. I mean, I’m not interested in turning this platform into a grief well, nor an anger ball, it’s pointless and blinkered and I’ve moved on with my life.

But not my opinions. And recent events within the entertainment industry, have conspired to make me really rather opinionated.

Let me explain.

Little over a fortnight ago I decided to see what the fuss was about and watched the Sense8 pilot. It had been dangled in front of my nose for months, as part of the ‘If you like this, then you’ll like this’ algorithm that now seems to infect our entire online existence, from shopping to streaming.

I fell hard. A fall that has only happened twice before, when it comes to television. And I devoured the first season at a voracious pace.

Then Netflix cancelled the show. And this morning I’ve read that despite massive petitions, that span the globe and reach six figures, and mainstream global media taking an interest, from every facet of the spectrum, from PinkNews and Attitude to the ChristianPost, they are refusing to resurrect the show, even for a single episode akin to the two-hour special, to wrap everything up. Apparently, it’s all to do with dollars and sense (see what I did there?). Not enough people watch the show, and it’s a punishing hit to Netflix’s purse, at an estimated cost of $9 million an episode.

That makes sense to me. But considering how much profit Netflix turns over, it’s slightly puzzling. I mean, they don’t want to just throw money away, but my personal understanding was that a streaming service was the perfect vehicle for content that often failed to get traction through network television. OITNB is the perfect example, and while I like some of that show, I think it is lorded unnecessarily. When an original show starts killing off beloved characters, you must wonder if the writers are struggling? Especially when the cast is trapped in a single location. Maybe it still panders to the male-fetish-fantasy of women in prison? Probably not, but you still have to wonder.

 

Concerning Sense8, Sheryl Oh’s article a few days ago hit the nail on the head, for me. Possibly a little too hard, because after reading I found myself crying in the toilets in work. Not my most flattering admission ever.

https://filmschoolrejects.com/sense8-deserved-time-netflix/

What she says is true. And the line:

“These are LGBTQ+ people, broken people, and people of varying race and cultural background who form healthy, dependable, and ultimately happy relationships with each other. And it’s now gone because of … low numbers? Supposedly? After a month?”

When I read that line I thought, OMG, it’s the X-Men.

Do I consider myself broken? Yep. We all are. Not just the LGBTQ+ minority either, in which I reside (please see previous post if still in the dark, here’s your flashlight). I firmly believe most people, most forward-thinking people, most people who see the world as an app they have trouble syncing with, have to break bits of themselves off in order to align themselves as best they can. Whether they accept that or not, is up to them.

I think it’s a generational thing, especially in the West. Oddly coinciding with the first X-Men film dropping at the box office back in 2000.

See, before then, anyone who read comics was a minority. A sentence that seemed ludicrous in today’s comic book/MCU obsessed world. I found the X-Men in the Megadrive/Genesis 16BT videogame, the cartoon, and the imported comic book that retailed at a ridiculous price down at Forbidden Planet, a store which, at the time, was about as far off the beaten track as the mainstream could get. Want an example? Well, the first Forbidden Planet I set foot in, had quite a large fetish S&M section. Technically not pornography, it just sat in the middle of the store, alongside the Vertigo comic display, which at the time was an independent comic house. Sandman rubbing shoulders with the likes of Marquis and other German-centric erotica. Damn, I miss the nineties.

 

I hate the X-Men movies; because, with the exception of First Class, none of them has come close to generating one iota of the feeling put forward by the comics or cartoon. Pancake-flat characterisation, a castrated subtext, and a focus on dayglow visuals and things that go boom. It’s basically Transformers, only without the rampant misogyny. The only movie that I think comes close to presenting an accurate portrayal of the X-Men is the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the sequel in particular being stellar in both content as well as empathically resonant in character interaction.

Maybe the creators recognise the necessity to move with the times? If Marvel Mutants are an analogy for LGBTQ+ life, then the generic opinion these days is that LGBTQ+ people never had it so good. An opinion that is as misguided, as it is insulting. Okay, Western Governments have put a degree of recognition in a percentage of their laws to protect LGBTQ+ people. But none of these are mandatory. And tolerance is not acceptance, either. The only way many barriers are broken down in today’s tech-centric, celebrity-driven world, is by genuine representation in film and television. In dramas and movies that see the person, not just the label.

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby penned the X-Men, they were doing so from a Jewish perspective. Two Jewish boys, who come of age and get their “powers” the same time they bar mitzvah, in a time when being Jewish wasn’t as bad as being different was for others (people of colour) but it wasn’t a picnic, either. That perspective changed over the years, including foreigners (Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler), but really found its traction when it came to sexuality and gender, the “powers” being an analogy for puberty.

These are obvious examples of humanity’s difference. Sense8 took that concept, included the ideals (gender identity, sexuality, nationalism) and expanded it, serving up the idea of a shared collective consciousness as a point of unity. The idea that if one member of the Sense8 was in trouble, another, or sometimes several, would rush to help is an incredibly powerful hook for someone who might feel lost, lonely and alienated. As I’m sure we all do at times, regardless of our unique situation. There were car chases, fight scenes, often the plot lapsing into an over-the-top degree of silliness that only exists in television. But what the hell? Just go with it.

But where the show blossomed was the really powerful moments. The quiet times between two sensates, when they talked about their lives, often only inside their own heads. It’s this empathy between the characters that many in the audience adored. The bits the audience remembered, the bits they could equate to their own lives, to my own life.

I have grown up fiercely wanting my own quasi-family. Not necessarily from a procreation perspective; more rather from an aspect of a shared community, complete with its own rules and traditions, that allows growth, but also isn’t afraid to have members come and go at will. Many of my favourite television shows have been anchored in this concept; an ensemble piece, with a dash of sci-fi, with obstacles that may take more than a shotgun, or a 999 call to fix. And many of those shows have suffered at the hands of the ratings bean-counters as a result. These include:

  • ‘Angel’ (5 Seasons, but cut short when Joss Whedon and Fox has a falling out)
  • ‘Space: Above and Beyond (1 season, cancelled intentionally because it was drawing fans away from the X-Files, allegedly)
  • ‘Alphas’ (2 seasons)
  • ‘Dollhouse’ (2 seasons)
  • ‘Young Americans’ (8 freakin’ episodes!)

And now ‘Sense8’ (2 seasons and an Xmas special; whose longevity now puts it in the silver medal position for the Favorite Failed Dramas of My Life award).

I guess no one wants to see stories about individuals coping against adversity. Which is interesting, and not exactly understood, considering at least three of the aforementioned shows have violence, sex and things going boom on a regular basis.

I have tried to watch regular television drama. It’s a trial, but I try.

Why do I find it difficult? Because I want to save the world, get in adventures, run from dangerous, shadowy organisations, walk where people like me often aren’t allowed to walk, fight dragons, have clandestine trysts on Mumbai fire-escapes and end it all in a bar, or a coffee shop, or the kitchen of a house that smells of safety and home, drinking black tea or passing the gin bottle around and laughing with people that understand me, as we’re stitched up, patched up, and sent back out again to carry on that struggle.

Called life.

Inspirational, positive, empowering storytelling, for men and women, of every colour, creed, sexuality and gender. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the season finale of Angel (“Not Fade Away”) my #1 favourite episode of TV, ever, solely for the above reason.

Because something that tells me, that despite the fact that we might ‘be an “us”, instead of a “them,”’ the fact that we are an us will always be more powerful.

I need my “us”. We all do.

One final thought. There’s a reason that no X-Men movie has ever featured the wedding of Jean Grey and Scott Summers.

Because it would make the X-Men too human. Not humane, human. Wanting the same things we all do, the mundane as well as the extraordinary. And Hollywood doesn’t want that. They want “them” to remain separate from the rest of the MCU. Or, maybe they don’t think the joy at two dozen friends coming together to see two of their alpha friends finally tie the knot, after years of being a couple, would be too dull for today’s audience?

I can tell you right now, it isn’t. It happened to me, in real life, back in January of this year.

It was one of the best nights out I’ve ever known. And despite the cold weather, it didn’t stop the fun. The dancefloor was still awash with beer by the end of the night, and the nurses out-danced the rugby team. The morning-after was just as I wanted it to be, a painful morning in Starbucks (“Has anyone got anything stronger than paracetamol?”), but worth every sore head.

Find your own Cluster, your own “us”. We’re all stronger as a group, than we are alone, despite the weak projections Hollywood suggests to us.

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