Having just had a mini-marathon of most of the X-Men films (minus the Wolverine movies, idk for some reason I can’t care for them? Sorry Hugh Jackman), there is something that I need to address and it’s been bothering me for the longest time. It’s not even super important to a lot of people and I don’t even know why I’m so oddly impassioned by this topic?? But it’s been bugging me for months. Idk maybe that’s my point, that it’s not a big enough deal to most people. [Spoiler alert for like half the movies]
When I’m not writing, I’m most likely watching a movie, and if I had to pick a genre more often than not it’s probably fantasy or sci-fi. Marvel’s X-Men series is one of my favorites, and I’ve been a fan of it since I was little, having watched the X-Men animated series on Saturday mornings as a kid. While I was a fan of the movies as well, for a long time I just never brought myself to fully pay attention to the convoluted storylines of like twenty characters for two hours.
I saw Apocalypse a while ago, and ironically it was the first film to renew my interest and get me into the X-Men franchise all over again. Unlike Rotten Tomatoes and a lot of X-Men fanboys, I thought it was a pretty good movie that was legitimately entertaining enough. After seeing it with my cousins and mentally going through all the reasons why I liked the movie, I thought it was cool and appreciated that there were two Asian female characters in it: Jubilee and Psylocke.
My appreciation quickly evaporated into disappointment though, when I realized that the characters were just as flawed as they were cool. Psylocke was an awesome villain and all, but she also didn’t have much dialogue and her role was flimsy. Tbh I didn’t really get her purpose in the movie until towards the end, which is kind of sad for someone who has the power to fuse an assortment of magic purple weapons of death to her arm. Then there was Jubilee, who I remember distinctly from the TV show; I loved the film’s nod to the comics and cartoon with her pink and yellow 80’s outfit. However, like Psylocke, her character left a lot to be desired. It was bad enough that the film reduced her to some basic mall-loving teenager, but not only did she have minimal lines, but they didn’t even show her powers, which I’m pretty sure had something to do with explosions and fireworks. Where were the fireworks?!
Going back through the previous installments I realized Apocalypse was just the latest example of X-Men’s seemingly half-hearted interest in presenting fully realized female Asian characters. Besides being one of the main reasons for the striking first scene of the best X-Men movies, Blink is only shown in roughly the first and last sections of the movie. She’s reduced to visual eye candy; the space-time portals she opens even have more dimension than her character. We barely get to hear her say five words before Sentinels converge to simultaneously impale her from three directions. After three examples, could it get any worse? Of course it can! X-2 gave us Lady Deathstrike, who is essentially She-Wolverine minus the self-healing. I almost forgot her name, because her sole purpose in the whole movie is to show off her terribly overgrown nails and provide one of many obligatory fighting sequences. In all of her appearances, it’s during her fight with Wolverine that the closest she comes to talking are her grunts from stylistic fighting moves and death by Adamantium. As strong as these characters were, they were rendered oddly two-dimensionally for genetically empowered anomalies. Two movies yields us two beautifully exotic, nearly mute, Asian female mutants. How impressive.
As a self-proclaimed female Asian nerd, this is especially annoying. There’s already not a lot of characters I can point to who look like me in the world of superheroes, let alone the genres of sci-fi and fantasy. For those who don’t even care about this geeky shit, why does it even matter? Well, it’s not just an insult to the fandom but an insult to this larger community.
I can already hear the shouts of angry opposing opinions. What are you talking about? They actually put Asian female characters in the series! You have not one, not two, but four Asian mutant chicks! That should be good enough!! Ughh. No no NO. Why should it be though? Why should I have to be candid about an issue that is non-existent for a good portion of the fanbase? The last time I checked white guys didn’t have a shortage of leading roles in movies.
So what’s up with the Asian female characters in X-Men? If they’re not developed characters, nor do they have any developed backgrounds or subplots, then what are they exactly? The X-Men franchise as a whole doesn’t have the best examples of character development, but this is one area they’ve grossly neglected and don’t care to fix. The point of representation is to be empowered through stories a group can relate to. Yeah, there are such things as foil or two dimensional characters, but in a universe where diversity is so prolific, I’m not buying that argument. I vaguely remember reading somewhere online about Jubilee being prominent in the film’s advertising and was supposed to be have more of a pivotal role. After 3 movies, I wonder what their reasoning was this time? They literally had 4 chances to feature this character, and decision to make them an asian character were 4 deliberate decisions. so why of all the characters. They’ve clearly achieve their quota of non-PoC people in the movie, yet they couldn’t find it in their hearts to limit one character’s precious screen time?
I hate to rip apart a series I love (and I do freakin love X-Men, despite not having read the comics, but whatever bite me), but I’m aware that a lot of things I’m a fan of have their faults that deserve to be addressed. Media is imperfect, and it doesn’t have to be otherwise, but the least it could do is keep striving for better representation. It’s important to be critical about what we consume, especially if said issue is a disservice to a key section of the audience. It doesn’t constitute true examples of representation if the people themselves are not fully represented; there’s no such thing as being half-represented. X-Men‘s issue with Asian female characters boils down to lazy character development and playing into a lame, superficial understanding of its audience. The failures in the X-Men films exemplify the type of misrepresentation that results from a reliance on stereotypes and outdated tropes concerning groups of people.
Note to producers and filmmakers:
GIVE. ASIAN. FEMALE. CHARACTERS. A. VOICE. ALSO STORIES.
Do us and all the nerd universe a favor and please truthfully make us the badass mutants we wholly know we are.
Strain of Thought covers my rambling thoughts, feelings, and observations about trends, entertainment, pop culture, millennialisms, and just about anything.