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 As Wolverine has lost love and connections throughout the film series he has withdrawn further and further into himself.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.