The Gifted Cast Talks Politics & Privilege in Superheroes

We chat with the stars of Fox's The Gifted about how they're using X-Men mutants to discuss modern issues of privilege and injustice.

In a scene fraught with terror and a gnawing sense of dread, a once peaceful family has seen their insulated lives shattered. Gathered in a parking garage in the dark, the stars of an ostensible superhero show—an obliviously bigoted father, his wife, and their two mutant children—have come crawling to what is essentially the Mutant Underground Railroad, begging the latter to save them from their own government. Except in The Gifted, freedom isn’t crossing the border into the United States; it is crossing the same border to escape into Mexico.

“Ironic, huh?” Emma Dumont smiles when I bring up that exact twist of Mexican fate that is just one of the many political allusions populating Fox’s X-Men-adjacent television series. She then adds, “It’s all intentional. Nothing’s done by chance.”

In The Gifted, Dumont plays Lorna Dane, aka Polaris, a mutant who’s fiercely active in the underground and who, like her father, has the ability to control magnetism. Also in the first episode of the series, she finds a fresh convert in Blink, a portal-manipulating mutant played by Gotham’s Jamie Chung. And like the co-star sitting next to her, Chung seems genuinely pleased to be part of a genre show that so many real world stakes on its mind.

“I think you’ll see some different themes in our show in terms of questioning ethical boundaries,” Chung says. “What if a power goes wrong? What would you do if what you needed landed [you] in jail? What if they’re just after you because you are a mutant and you didn’t do anything wrong?”

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It’s an aspect that’s already pervasive in the first hour of The Gifted, which seems to using the familiar Marvel Comics metaphor-catchall of mutants to discuss issues very pertinent to 2017. As mentioned, the main family of the series was a briefly happy, upper middle class family grounded in a loving marriage with Reed and Kate Strucker (Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker). Both are engaged in their children’s lives, and think nothing of Reed’s work as a U.S. prosecutor who’s rounding up and putting away mutants deemed a “danger” to society. But that changes real quick when they discover their teenage children (Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White) are also mutants.

In the course of about five seconds, Acker’s Kate sees her political worldview, as well as her life, completely flip into unrecognizable contortions when government officials come in the dead of night to take her children away. It’s the kind of aggressive persecution of a minority that some Americans likely fantasize about ICE one day doing to undocumented immigrants. And it’s a startling moment in The Gifted, both for the audience and the actress playing Kate.

“Yeah, I think [privilege] is a big issue that we try to address in the show,” Acker tells me during a roundtable interview with her and Moyer. “Just because something doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting for. And I think the complacency they’ve had with their lives, they’re living a very privileged life, they’re wanting for nothing. And then all of a sudden, you have someone at your door saying they’re going to take your kids away. I thought it was interesting when she was saying, ‘But my husband’s a prosecutor,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s not going to help.’

“So it is a quick turn, and I think from this point, the questions are now asked about where did we go wrong? Why didn’t we ask these questions earlier? How do we make up for this now? How do we maybe change family members [minds]? It goes in different directions to figure out how we can make other people see this light we have started to see.”

It’s an especially rich conflict for Moyer to play, since his character will be on both sides of the law, including as a prisoner since The Gifted’s first episode ends with him being rounded up and placed right next to the mutant he incarcerated earlier in the episode… Dumont’s Polaris.

“He’s actively participating in creating this disparity in society,” Moyer says of his character. “I don’t think he thinks he’s doing that. I think he thinks he’s doing what he does for the good of society to keep people safe… That all changes on a dime when he realizes his family is going to be affected by this, and that catalyst is what makes him have to consider some of the choices he’s made, and good drama makes you question your life choices, and that’s what he has to do.”

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Not that he can expect much sympathy from Polaris. The rest of the season hints that he will partner with the Daughter of Magneto, a mutant heroine he previously tried to pressure into naming names by revealing to her that she is pregnant with a child. It’s a relationship that Dumont suggests will be explored in great detail as The Gifted’s new season continues.

Says Dumont, “Reed Strucker [comes to her as] a father, being like, ‘Hey dude, stop being crazy… Like you have a kid you need to take care of, and Polaris says, ‘F you! I don’t care what you have to say, and I’m going to fight even harder now.’ It’s, I think, the mama bear moment where people think because she’s having a child, she’s going to be all nice and ‘I have to protect the baby.’ No, she’s like I’m going to fight even harder. I don’t know how long gestation is for mutants, but if it’s nine months, she has nine months to make the world a better place so her kid can be born into a safe environment.”

Yet that safer world apparently must include a begrudging relationship with Reed during the series’ inaugural season.

“The thing about Reed and Polaris is she hates his guts. She thinks he’s what’s wrong with the world,” Dumont says. “He’s a bigot, he’s a bad person, he’s harming innocent people, and he doesn’t even realize that he is bad. But for survival, and for survival only, with the stakes so high with her mutant baby she has to worry about, she ends up having to work with Reed. But there’s a difference between putting something aside and forgiveness. I have to admit, I don’t think Polaris ever, ever forgives him.”

This includes when Reed will try to ask for it later in the season.

“There are moments where Reed admits he’s wrong. ‘I was wrong; I shouldn’t have done these things; I now realize my faults.’ And she basically says to him, ‘No, you don’t get to apologize and you definitely don’t get forgiveness from me.’”

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Maybe not this year, but since The Gifted’s first season is only going to take place over a mere 18 days—as per Chung and Dumont—that means there is plenty of time left as the pressure cooker of running from eagerly discriminating authorities continues into possible later seasons.

The Gifted airs Monday nights on Fox at 9 p.m. ET/PT.