Let’s Talk About Disability & Body in X-Men

A brief discussion regarding the appearance of disability in the X-Men franchise

Film Discussion

Superhero movies do tend to comprise of characters that are afflicted by physical disabilities, heroes take their conditions in their stride and instead incorporate these in their fight against evil.

As an example, there are many cases of blind individuals who then seek an alternative method of sight in the world of Marvel, one being Daredevil: who was taught to utilise his amplified senses after an accident involving a cargo of extremely toxic chemicals at a young age. The term ‘mutate’ refers to these heroes that develop powers from an unexpected external stimuli or after an exposure to a mutagenic element.

Many Marvel characters possess superhuman powers as a consequence of a fatal accident or experiment during early age. The matter of disabled body is also very relevant in the X-Men franchise, in which the characters featured and the films released call attention to a cast of  mutants: beings that display enhanced deformities, unlike any ‘regular’ human. These individuals naturally develop unique qualities, enabling them to possess powers beyond natural belief – such as flight, telekinesis or super strength. In terms of the X-Men, they choose to use these abilities to promote justice in the world of wrongdoers.

These abnormalities do bear their own drawbacks, as some of the characters featured in the X-Men movies suffer through difficult experiences in an attempt to adjust to their own irregularity. The shapeshifting mutant character Raven Darkhölme, commonly referred to as Mystique, has a natural state compromising of blue skin and vivid yellow eyes. Mystique  is shown as a young mutant during X-Men: First Class (2011) where she is shown disguising herself in an attempt to steal food from a wealthy household, hinting towards a previous, dejected childhood. During the films First ClassX-Men: Day’s of Future Past (2014) and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) Mystique is shown rebelling against the vigilantes due to her own revulsion towards her irregularity.

Darke (1997, p.10) states an idea that can relate directly to Mystique as a character:”[F]rom the cinema’s conception right up until the end of World War II, there can be no doubt that disability was predominantly seen and shown as ‘freakish'”. First Class is initially set in 1944, the time when young Mystique first appears; during this time she is rejected by her family because of her physical attributes. She constantly feels alienated from the rest of humanity around her, considering her manifestation as a freak.

X-Men: First Class (2011) source: 20th Century Fox

When referring to the typical image of a disabled body, one could regularly reference an individual in a wheelchair or one bearing similar difficulties that are apparent on account of the lack of capability to walk or move in a conventional way. With regard to the X-Men franchise, the character seen in a state like this is Professor Charles Xavier, who became wheelchair-bound after an incident in First Class involving a bullet hitting him in his spine, leaving him paralysed from the waist down.

Despite his obvious incapability to move around, the professor isn’t thwarted by this in the majority of his endeavours as he still succeeds in the formation of the X-Men as well as triumphing through his own leadership of the ensemble: in fact, his disability is barely ever focussed upon by the other characters.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) source: 20th Century Fox

Darke, P. (1997) ‘Everywhere: Disability on Film’ In Pointon, A. (ed.) Framed: Interrogating Disability in the Media. BFI. pp. 10-15.

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