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Logan, the X-Men, and what they say about the minority experience

At their best, superhero movies and comic books hold a mirror up to our society. They ask us to consider what we would do if we were placed in these fantastical situations. Would we fight for the greater good, even in the face of ostracization and persecution from society? Bryan Singer’s X-Men films certainly asked this question. In James Mangold’s Logan, that question reaches its logical conclusion.

Slashfilmcast listener Steve Alvarez wrote in this email about his experience watching Logan (reproduced here with permission). I found it particularly moving. Spoilers ahead:

As Jeff would say, I’ve been a Marvel Zombie from way back. And I regret to add that I’ve hated every single one of Bryan Singers X-Men films, as well as The Last Stand and Wolverine Origins. These films had always felt like they were merely about characters with superpowers, superficial battles and catchphrases. The exception to these films was Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, for reasons I’ll revisit, and the Quicksilver scene in Days of Future Past, for reasons that are self-evident. Needless to say, I was cautiously optimistic about Logan.

By the time we got to the scene on the farm in Logan, I had already decided that this was easily the best X-Men film of them all, and perhaps one of the top comic book genre films to date. On the farm, I had incorrectly assumed the film was near it’s end. By this point, there had already been so much earthly pain and suffering throughout the film, wonderfully expressed through great writing, an appropriate amount of humor and excellent acting by a convincing cast. Of course, I was wrong about the ending and the film continued. Eventually we got to the scenes in the woods of North Dakota. And as promised, Logan, the X-Man we connected with the most, finally began to die. Somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself holding back tears. But I wasn’t prepared for when Laura cried out “Daddy.” That is when I completely lost it. Right there, next to 7 of my friends. And all the triggers throughout the movie, began an unrelenting assault on my emotions, to the soundtrack by Johnny Cash, a singer a late father figure of mine had loved.

Long before I met my wife, I dared to prepare for a life of fatherhood. I thought about what type of job would best afford me the time, training, and an adequate income (I’m now a school psychologist). Within a year of meeting my wife, we began discussing where we would raise our child, what values we would instill, and how we’d manage as many of life’s curve balls as our imaginations could conjure up (like a sort of mental “danger room” if you will). For the past 8 months or so, my wife and I have started visiting medical professionals, discovering that it may not be so simple for us. And then the unimaginable happened: suddenly we were living in a country that had changed it’s trajectory. And my wife’s greatest fear, of raising a child in the country where Trayvon Martin’s killer walks free, became my own fears, multiplied. In the past few months, I did what any self respecting progressive, minority, feminist, empathetic human being would do: I marched, I wrote letters to my representatives, I educated and I donated time and money. But I also did one other thing. I grew curious about how other countries were responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, and why Canadians appeared to be so welcoming and tolerant. I learned about how the great north identified with the values of multiculturalism and had maintained a very inclusive immigration policy. And I began to ask myself, if my parents could both independently immigrate to this country with the hopes of finding a better future for themselves and their unborn children, why should I feel too embarrassed to do the same?

For weeks, I have been wrestling with the idea of staying and fighting to make this country a more hospitable place for my unborn child, versus finding them a home that’s welcoming–sparing them the fate of having to fight for recognition, dignity, safety, and their humanity. And then there’s Hugh Jackman, on an IMAX screen, performing a much more literal, much more dramatic version of the debate that’s playing out in my mind. This is the main reason I loved the X-Men growing up. To me, they weren’t just characters with extraordinary talents, fighting superficial battles that ended in catchphrases. They were members of a minority class, with their own civil rights leaders–some advocating for peace and some struggling with their temptation to radicalize, given their extraordinary abilities. One of the key elements that previous X-Men films seemed to lack was an earthly depiction of the pain that comes with persecution.

Logan shows that years of fighting for what you believe in can take a massive physical and emotional toll. Sometimes, though, it is the only choice you have.