The Thoughtless Diversity of Logan

logan_donald_trump_immigrants.jpg

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

 

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with Logan. It’s well-acted, well-directed and all-around well-done superhero film. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart turn in some of their best performances in the entire X-Men film franchise. Dafne Keen is an unstoppable force. She is one of the most gifted young actresses of our time. Stephen Merchant and Elizabeth Rodriguez are heartbreaking in their small roles. The many young child actors were amazing as well. Everyone involved did a wonderful job.

The bare bones plot is a great one too: Most of the original mutants have died out and all that seem to remain are Professor Xavier, Wolverine, Caliban… And a few genetically engineered mutant children, including Logan’s daughter (!) Laura. The film is about Logan breaking his self-destructive cycle in order to learn how to love and protect Laura. This being Jackman’s last performance as Wolverine, it is a logical and poignant note to end the series on. As Wolverine has lost love and connections throughout the film series he has withdrawn further and further into himself. It makes total sense for the final film installment of Wolverine’s saga to tackle Wolverine’s emotional redemption.

I really don’t want to be mistaken here: I loved the idea of Logan.

My problem is the execution.

It opens with a fight scene (of a white guy killing a group of Mexican men)!

Logan has a kind, caregiving friend (who he communicates with like an abusive husband to his battered wife)!

Logan has a daughter (who is part of a group of genetically engineered mostly PoC mutant children who were literally harvested out of Mexican woman in a lab for use by an evil corrupt government organization)!

Logan, Charles and Laura bond with a kind black family (who are all mercilessly slaughtered onscreen by a Logan clone)!

Let’s linger on that last point for a second. In Logan, an entire black family gets slaughtered onscreen. This is a black family who we already see terrorized by racist hicks for refusing to move off their farmland. We are shown that they are at the mercy of these white folks to maintain basic amenities like running water. We also see that they are often terrorized by these men WITH GUNS on what seems to be a daily basis.

We see their struggle. We see their kindness. We see they are god-fearing, and then we watch them die, in the most brutal way possibly.

That upset me deeply. I didn’t want it to. I didn’t think it would. But there I was, watching this kind black family being slaughtered and all I could feel was anger, sadness and a strong desire to get up and leave the theater. I was warned by a friend before seeing Logan that it would have graphic images of brown and black bodies being brutalized. Having that heads up, I thought I was ready for what was to come.

Being a huge fan of horror, I’m no stranger to violence in films. It is a time-honored tradition for film to carelessly brutalize black and brown bodies, so it’s not like it would be a new thing for me to see. However, I thought I would be desensitized to it at this point, as morbid of a thought that is. What with the televised killings of Eric Garner, Philando Castile and countless other black and brown people through the years, I thought I had become used to the sight of my brothers and sisters dying brutally, nonsensically and often at the hands of careless white aggressors.

Watching Logan, I found that was not quite true.

Which, on one hand, is great. It means I’m not desensitized to the violence yet. I’m not complacent yet. I still feel that conscious black rage bubbling within me when I see injustice. I haven’t been worn down yet. That makes me very glad.

Unfortunately, that means that I can’t just watch scenes like the one in Logan. And I definitely can’t ignore the context; hat it is a franchise with majority white protagonists that only really dabbles in the inclusion of people of color to add grit and “realism” to the fantastical superhero proceedings. This is not a film about the oppression of black and brown bodies. This is a Wolverine film in a “diverse” location. Director James Mangold already did it once with The Wolverine in Japan. This time we’re down in Mexico, Texas and the Midwest. Full of black and brown people, orange filters and enough dried blood to rival a Robert Rodriguez film.

If Logan was a film that was trying to say something about the brutalization of black and brown bodies, this would be another piece entirely. Perhaps if Laura’s caretaker Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) was the protagonist of this film, it would be just that. Thematically, it just doesn’t read that way. This is a film about Logan learning how to love again and dealing with the pain that comes with it. His daughter being half-Mexican is incidental to the plot and location. There really isn’t more to it than that.

Casting of a film can be diverse without the diversity actually meaning anything thematically. Creatives (including myself) should be mindful of the ways they depict diversity in terms of race and gender. Part of acknowledging different ethnicities, gender identities and sexualities in film is portraying them in ways that are responsible. I’m sure other creatives would disagree with me on this, but it’s an opinion that I stand by. Logan is a great example why.

***

The double punch of Logan is that we are forced not only grapple with the carnage on screen but we are also left wondering about the implied carnage.

While watching the film I had questions like:

What happened to all the Mexican women that gave birth to these mutant test tube children? Did they all die in childbirth? Were they killed? Did any of them get away? If they did, how long did they live? Did any of them take their own lives?

I also found myself pondering questions like:

How will these children grow up? Will they grow up? How will they handle their PTSD? Will they ever trust any adult again? Will they be able to trust each other? How will they deal with being people of color and mutants at the same time? Isn’t that like double racism?

These real life questions plague me in the metaphorical world of the X-Men.

The thing that the older X-Men films were able to do, was bring us to an alternate reality where the biggest issue they needed to face was being mutants. Being a mutant worked as a metaphor for everything. Racism, homophobia, transphobia… All of these forms of bigotry could be addressed under the huge mutant umbrella. In the other X-Men films there were clearly two kinds of people: Mutants and “Normal Humans.”

It also helped that in those films the cast was majority white to keep the metaphor from muddling. Give or take a Halle Berry, Zoe Kravitz and Edi Gathegi and a few others, those films were working with a majority white cast. Watching these film, even as a black woman, didn’t make me think of race. Race was there metaphorically, but nothing presented to me onscreen rocked my world or gave me any kind of new perspective.

The X-Men never broke down white supremacy for me or taught me anything about rape culture. The X-Men provided me (a queer disabled black woman) with the same message it provided to straight, able-bodied non-black people: It’s okay to be different. Even if someone tries to make you feel bad for being different or persecute you for it, it’s okay to be different. This is a powerful message, but also a vague one. Vague enough not to offend a bigot who loves comic book films but powerful enough to make a young queer kid feel better about himself. The lack of specificity to the mutant metaphor is both a gift and a curse to the X-Men in that way.

(I’ve read pieces that assert that the comic books were created as a metaphor for racism. But none of that changes the fact that the majority of the main characters were conceptualized as white. The X-Men were just different enough not to alienate white readers.)

Logan brings X-Men characters in the real world. Once everyone is bleeding and suffering and dealing with trauma, we are in the real world. This world. And in this world, I’m watching black and brown people get killed every day. I’m watching white killers get away with their crimes and the government looking the other way. I’m watching racism, anti-Semitism and sexism rising in the White House, endangering people in our entire country.

Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) instructing an entire army to retain and kill young black and brown children under the guise of power, money, authority and whiteness does not look like fantasy to me. Watching these parentless, troubled children journey across the border to fend for themselves once their white protector is dead does not fill me any hope or joy. I feel dread, and I can’t help but think about the real life children in America fending for themselves because our government does not care for their safety. The children who never had any sort of powerful savior to look out for them.

And what message does the film leave us with? Things are going to get much, much worse? We will have to fight for our freedom all over again. We will die all over again. The government will always get back around to killing us, even if we’re safe for a short while. Even after overcoming certain differences, there will always be more differences. There will always be more barriers. And despite all this, we must continue to open our hearts and love again. Trust again. Even if it will all go to shit soon enough.

Logan reminds us that at the end of the day safety is an illusion of time.

This is not a fact black and brown people need to be reminded of.

We already know that.

Advertisements

16 comments

  1. From your reaction to the film and breakdown of the metaphors and messages you walked away with, it feels like you walked away with exactly the mindset the people behind Logan hoped to elicit. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem that the use of diversity in the movie was thoughtless. Instead, it was quite purposeful to make the points it did.

    Like

    • I think you’re giving the filmmakers a bit too much credit. Especially considering my reading of the film is not a popular one, and you’re the first person to leave a comment that engaged with the piece and wasn’t just full of racial slurs. (Seriously, you are the first person to comment without calling me something awful, so I appreciate that. I’ve had to delete most of the comments I’ve gotten for being offensive.)

      What I’m saying is, if my reaction was the desired one then I believe the filmmakers kind of failed because so many people seemed to miss this supposed “point”.

      But I respect your opinion and your reading. You could very well be right.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your reading of the film is a most unexpected one, but it has given me pause and has inspired some reflection. In this way, it has proved a blessing. I have yet to see the film, and honestly, I am still not sure, even as a person of color, I would have detected the potentially problematic nature of Logan’s depiction and treatment of its characters of color. But after reading this piece, that certainly isn’t the case. You’ve given me a few things to think about, and as far as I can gather, that’s the raison d’être of this here site to begin with. So whatever ugly and unholy flailing you have had to endure on account of sharing your wisdom and reflection, fear not, and keep doing what you’re doing. God bless…

    – The Good Rev. Reginald Cephas Weaver, III

    Like

  3. While I still have yet to see Logan, I feel your article makes some very valid points. Is it okay if I tweet this article to James Mangold to see what he thinks – he seems like an introspective director from his interviews (if not a little pretentious when it comes to tentpole superhero films).

    That said, some of what you mentioned near the end sounds like it would be a great topic for an X-23 spin-off movie to focus on.

    Like

  4. I apologize if I’m misunderstanding but I feel like you’re missing the forest for the trees. I don’t think the creators of “Logan” chose a diverse cast out of Hollywood sloppiness and indiscretion, I believe it was just an attempt at showing that bystanders/support characters/everyday people don’t have to be white for you to empathize with them. In most stories centering around Wolverine, innocents die from being even tangentially involved with him. This isn’t meant for shock value (at least not when done properly), it’s meant to show that Wolverine is trapped in a cycle of violence that pulls in everyone around him.
    For me personally, the scene where the black farmers family is killed wasn’t poignant due to the kindhearted black folk being murdered but due to the way it ended. Logan is getting brutalized by his clone when the farmer, barely alive, rams the clone with his truck and blasts him with a shotgun repeatedly. As the farmer turns around to face Logan, he points the shotgun at him and pulls the trigger only to find he’s out of ammo. Through pulling that trigger alone the farmer has said, “This is your fault”. That moment retroactively justified so many things about Wolverine as a character, that I honestly think it is more valuable than X-Men:Days of Future Past as a whole.
    I’m sure this all sounds like lore-based nerdsplaining bullshit and I hope you don’t take this as me telling you what to think, but I rather enjoy this “careless diversity”. It used to be impossible to see a black face in film that wasn’t shuckin’ and jivin’ or good at basketball for some fucking reason, but at least some filmmakers (however clumsily) are normalizing us. At one point in the movie, they showed the teenage sons room and in the background I saw a Dr. Acula poster. Hell yes, black kids listen to metalcore music too. It’s not weird at all, we’re all individuals with varying taste. And I understand if you find the exploitation of Hispanic women being used as a plot point to be shady…because it is. But in fairness to the filmmakers, would a corporation be able to make dozens of white women disappear for anywhere near as cheap? This especially makes sense if you consider that many real life American pharmaceutical companies do their production in Mexico to reduce costs. And I don’t want to speak for Mexican America, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Chicana X-Men fans who were happy to see that X-23 was of Mexican descent.
    I realize that shoehorning victimization of minorities into a movie is dumb and infuriating, but I don’t think that was the intention of this film. I think the filmmakers included the victimization of regular people (as it is a recurring theme in the source material) and those people happened to be minorities. However naive it may be for Hollywood to try to divorce the human experience from the (insert ethnic background here) experience, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. Would having the farmers family be white add or take away from movie? Would the runaway lab kids being Canadian instead of Mexican have made what happened to them any better or worse? Probably not, but if filmmakers steer clear of showing black and brown people dying so long as it’s what’s happening in the real world, we will straight up never see it again. Violence targeting minorities exists, exploitation of said minorities exists, corporate greed and collusion exists, so why should film pretend it doesn’t?

    Like

    • I get what you’re saying, but what does the violence against black and brown folks add to the film, exactly? Aside from the social relevance? I wrote this piece because I felt like the film was careless about the violence and then didn’t have anything interesting or poignant to say about it. Yes, there is violence against us in the world, in the media, etc. But what exactly does Logan say about it? Because in my opinion he film has very little interest in anyone who isn’t Logan and doesn’t provide a lot of the surrounding events with nuance. Yes, the minorities are portrayed like humans, but for what? I’m commenting on it relation to what the film is trying to say about Logan himself. I don’t mention at all in the piece about the POC characters being stereotypical, it’s not about how they are portrayed that bother’s me it’s the purpose they serve in the narrative.

      Just because I as a black person witness the injustice against my people every day doesn’t mean I want to go tot he movies and see it and especially not if the film I’m watching has very little to say about the violence it shows and why it’s showing it. I just don’t like seeing black and brown violence in relation to what is ultimately a white narrative. I don’t need that kind of lip service.

      Like

  5. Thank you so much for writing this article! I had similar thoughts coming out of the cinema and I’m glad that there’s actually a discussion being had about it!

    At the moment I am planning a fanfiction of Logan, an alternate version where Logan tries to dispose of Pierce and is captured, resulting in Transgien obtaining the Eden co-ordinates early on and Caliban having to race against time to get Laura and Charles there, before it’s too late. I wanted to include The Munsons in this due to enjoying their characterisation a lot, and I’ve already planned that they are not killed off in this version (because of the reasons you detailed above, but also that X-24 is sent straight to Eden). This leaves the threat of the white farmers, who are still very much armed and dangerous.

    What would be the best way to resolve that? Being non-black, I didn’t want to make any assumptions about the best outcome for them.
    By the way, don’t feel any obligation to answer this! I thought it better to ask rather then just guess with no experience myself, but that doesn’t put the onus on you.

    Thank you for reading this, and thank you again for pointing out the gratuity of what is otherwise an enjoyable film.

    Cheers,

    -DoaB

    Like

  6. This article made me think a bit more about Rogue One and its attempts toward inclusion. To me when watching, the film’s casting felt somewhat lopsided, since while the main cast brought in players from around the globe like Diego Luna and Jiang Wen, the background cast of the Rebel fleet was 99% white men and two white women. So it felt kinda jarring to go from the inclusive band of Riz and Chirrut and Cassian to a hallway on Leia’s ship packed with white men and Darth Vader slaughtering through them expendably.

    At the time I figured this was a conscious, if regressive, attempt to maintain continuity with A New Hope and its monochrome casting standards. But now I wonder if the effect would’ve been worse or not if the hallway’s doomed participants had also had non-white men and women and Darth Vader mowing them all down just the same. Is the issue with Logan that this black family died so this white one may live, and thereby Rogue One’s diverse main cast would avoid that transgression, or is it that reality is still too near to allow depiction of any Red Shirts besides white men remain apolitical?

    Like

    • I think it’s a little of both. I felt like the black family died for a white narrative and that really struck me… but an argument can be made that they died for the young mutants of color. On the flip side of that, I think reality being too near is a huge issue as well. I had similar feelings watching Lana get wrongfully imprisoned in Season 7 of Archer. I wrote a piece about it on this site, if you’re interested!

      Like

      • I have read your piece! (Before I posted my first comment, but my response now was delayed for school reasons.) It was very much descriptive of all the wrong wounds the show kept tossing salt for its own shallow laughs. Ugh.

        It’s simply curious, to me, to see, in contrast to Logan, white men absolutely gleeful over Rogue One depicting a hallway of themselves being massacred feebly. Travel the comments of the Rogue One fandom, and those who lean towards social justice admire the characters and inclusive lead casting, while vids of the Vader scene are nearly all fanboy commentators. Are blokes so far from danger that they envy the image of oneself getting pathetically wiped out by an avatar of evil? Are white dudes so glad to trade being reflected as Anakin Skywalker, noble but troubled white man, for being menaced by Vader as he was first introduced, a faceless inhuman embodiment of tyranny?

        Perhaps then Logan’s thoughtlessness is a symptom of not comprehending danger to oneselves’ majority group and thereby not comprehending existing danger to minority groups. Thoughtless in the literal sense of the word, just as you said.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the point of the Munsons’ deaths is that there was no point. They died for nothing. It was their lives that had purpose. And Logan’s life that does not. Even after Mrs. Munson & her son die protecting Laura, Logan is still fighting for the past (Charles).

    There really doesn’t seem to be a protagonist here. Gabriela is the closest to that role, and her death is not a fridging. Logan doesn’t care when she dies. Hell – even in death Gabriela herself looks like she’s got fewer fucks to give than Logan does. Her death doesn’t change him. Nor does the tape of her telling him “You may not love her, but she is your child.”

    Mr. Munson’s version of this is dropping dead at the moment of his choosing. As if to say “I don’t even have as much power as those dead white men over there. Let alone mutant powers. All I have is my will. What’s your excuse?”

    Like

  8. Hi,

    Just want to say I had similar feelings (as a pale straight white guy)…right off the bat with the early scene of the Mexican gang trying to strip Logan’s limo, I was like, Really? In 2017 another generic gang of Mexicans or Latinos or POC who so willingly shoot someone with a shotgun while robbing a car, who then grotesquely get ripped apart by Logan? Yet another scene of disposable “bad” minorities like this that’ve been imprinted on our brains from the big screen for decades? For really no purpose except to allow his claws to come out early and chop some people up. That scene really was awful, and after that all the rest of the violence pissed me off.

    As you suggested in your article, there’s the comic book/fantasy stuff, partially embodied here by the Reavers, while having this attempt at dark realism or real violence at the same time, and it just doesn’t mesh. Do you want the Reavers with their (essentially silly) mechanical arms and sci-fi attributes, or do you want a gritty realistic meditation on violence? It’d be like if there was an X-Men movie with Magneto or the Sentinels graphically tearing apart some human enemies – it just wouldn’t be earned or cohere or be a meaningful choice.

    Then when the Munsons are wiped out, even their children, and so brutally by the cloned Logan, it just felt gratuitous, careless, offensive, gross, basically unnecessary and racist. Why do we need to see a fantasy – an unrealistic genetically superstrong Logan clone, so brutally and realistically destroy a black family? There’s no point to it, and I can’t give Mangold the benefit of the doubt having seen The Wolverine and how the Japanese characters (most of whom are the villians) are dealt with there. The film still could’ve had a melancholic, funereal tone without the offensive graphic violence.

    (All that said, I loved X-23. But I couldn’t fully enjoy her story and mayhem within the context of this other violence we’re talking about).

    Thanks for your article!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s