Of all the many, many creations in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s extensive oeuvre, few have ever proven as potent for allegory and transmutative topicality as the mutants themselves. In other words, no superhero creation has been as fertile for political commentary as the X-Men. This is something that The Gifted, a new Fox network series set in the X-Men universe, is going to expand on in new and challenging ways for 2017. And it’s something the cast is very proud about.
“Yeah, I’m going to say straight-up you guys, our show’s about bigotry,” actress Emma Dumont tells me during an interview for The Gifted after the series’ San Diego Comic-Con panel. “I’m sorry, but we see it in the first scene when Blink’s running for her life and a cop could easily kill her dead with zero consequences, because of prejudice, because of prejudging her for something people are uncomfortable with, that they don’t understand, because people are born with this thing, and that is literally where we live.”
She’s not wrong on either count. The series indeed begins with Blink (Jamie Chung) being pursued due to looking different by police forces that aim to arrest her or worse. For being born in a minority group, she is aggressively targeted and she only escapes by the skin of her teeth in an impressive action sequence. From there, things only get more heated, and Dumont, who plays Magneto’s daughter Lora Dane, aka Polaris, is hopeful the show can start larger conversations, not unlike how Logan incorporated modern immigrant and refugee prejudices into its mutant lore earlier this year.
“It is heartbreaking, but I hope this show throws up a mirror on society,” says Dumont. “Because it’s ridiculous and it is worth talking about, and so important. We’re shooting in Atlanta, which we love. We love filming in Georgia, because it was such a big part of the civil rights movement in the United States, and yeah our mutant underground is based on the underground railroad. I mean, we aren’t trying to hide it, we’re not being cool. We’re being like, for real, these are the issues we want to talk about.”
In fact, it’s par for the course for television to use allegory to discuss current, uncomfortable events. Jamie Chung in the same interview points out to me how a sitcom like M*A*S*H* used its Korean War setting to not-so-secretly talk about events in the then-timely Vietnam War.
“It’s extremely important, I think that is why Matt [Nix] wanted to create this show and highlight it,” Chung says of The Gifted showrunner. “It’s not comparable to what people are actually going through… but I think it makes our show quite different because we are highlighting those current events issues.”
And while we haven’t gotten a fully expansive look yet about how The Gifted will address these issues in its 10-episode run, already from the first 20 or so minutes I’ve seen, there are noticeable hints. For instance, the crux of the series is about a minority group being kept under very careful watch and discriminatory attention by the U.S. government. And the male lead of the series, True Blood’s Stephen Moyer, plays a U.S. prosecutor who is likely a patriot and a caring family man that is seeking to keep “undesirables” out of society. For our security.
In a separate interview, Moyer also underlines a new way that the mutant metaphor is being utilized in The Gifted.
“One of the things they’ve setup that I like is that mutants and humans can live together, that’s absolutely fine,” Moyer says with a hint of skepticism. “But mutants aren’t allowed to use their powers in public for detrimental means. So I was just thinking about it over there. You can cut your vegetables with your laser eyes in private but you’re not allowed to do it outside. And so he thinks he is doing the right thing by his family by protecting them from that. By taking people who can’t control those powers, by taking them out of society, he thinks he’s doing the right thing.”
The Moyer character’s depiction of arbitrary government rules that constrain the personal lives of individuals can conjure up images of how, until recently, members of the LGBTQ+ community were allowed to do whatever they want—as long as they didn’t try to legalize it through marriage. Or how transgender folks in many states are still not allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with their identity.
Similarly, both Dumont and Chang note how their characters are especially marked for persecution given physical mutations that signify them as different, whereas the male mutant on the shows do not have that problem.
“The girl mutants, us two, have things physically on us that we can’t hide that we’re mutants,” Dumont explains. “Specifically, Blink but also Polaris. The boys can completely hide that they’re mutants. They go out into the world, they seem normal. When we go out in public, people, they know.” When asked if this is an allusion toward very modern and painfully pertinent sexism, Dumont says, “Yeah, exactly.”
In the best X-Men tradition, The Gifted appears poised to look at what issues lead to persecution in 2017 and give it superpowers. That’s a pretty powerful thing in its own right.
The Gifted premieres on Monday, Oct. 2 on Fox.
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