FOX’s new hit series THE GIFTED is giving us all sorts of X-Men comic book vibes. There is action, iconic mutants, and the subtle moral messages about discrimination X-Men is synonymous for. THE GIFTED is about the Strucker family, whose children have just discovered that they are mutants themselves. The series follows their new lives as mutants outrunning a hostile government.

THE GIFTED teaches its audience about discrimination and prejudice using characters people can easily root for. The series doesn’t do this overtly, but it uses mutants to teach a moderate audience what marginalized people deal with in the face of discrimination. It isn’t extraordinarily bold, but the subtle way THE GIFTED portrays these issues on screen is invaluable.

X-Men’s Channeling the Civil Rights Era

X-Men creator Stan Lee credits the Civil Rights era as inspiration for the X-Men universe and some of its most famous mutants. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the inspiration for Professor Charles Xavier, and Malcolm X was the inspiration for Magneto. The lives of historically oppressed people help create the storylines for the mutants in Marvel Comics. The more obvious example is Magneto’s backstory as a Holocaust survivor. Furthermore, X-Men has taken on the experiences of what it is like to be black, gay, an immigrant, or a person of a different religion. The characters in THE GIFTED face discrimination from the government, and it is something that is still prevalent in reality.

X-Men Comic Discrimination Ad THE GIFTED
X-Men Comic Discrimination Ad

In THE GIFTED, the Mutant Control Act makes it illegal for mutants to use their powers in public. The government arrest and prosecutes mutants if they use their powers, even if it is by accident. Mutant Control legislation keeps mutants from occupying public space by challenging their right to exist as mutants. Therefore laws like the Mutant Control Act in THE GIFTED openly discriminate against mutants. This is all too familiar with what our government is doing now marginalized communities.

FOX’s THE GIFTED Trailer Breakdown and Preview

In the United States today, the government still practices flagrant forms of discrimination. We can talk about how the Jeff Sessions justice department recently labeled black protestors as “Black Identity Extremists.” Or the House of Representatives lead by Republicans are trying to take away women’s reproductive rights with intrusive legislation. However, the government’s attempt to ban transgender people from public space by creating bathroom bills is the most flagrant.

How Our Government Plays A Role in Discrimination

Bathroom bills like North Carolina’s HB2 bill signed into law by former Governor Pat McCrory (R) were designed to discriminate. The law requires transgendered people to use restrooms according to their biological sex instead of their gender identity. The problem with that law was that it put trans-men (men) in the women’s restroom and trans-women (women) in the men’s restroom.

North Carolina lawmakers wanted to “keep men out of women’s restrooms.” The irony of their HB2 law is that it explicitly put trans-men, who are men, into women’s restrooms by law.  HB2 was the evil creation of conservative Republican lawmakers who want erase transgendered people from the public space. By using the government, conservative Republicans tried to ban trans people from public life by subversively denying them human dignity in using a public restroom.

Protest of North Carolina's HB2 Law THE GIFTED
Protest of North Carolina’s HB2 Law

Oh wait, there’s more! Our government is still trying to discriminate against American citizens. Just ask about how President Trump, the man-child who paints his face orange and occupies the White House, is trying to ban transgendered people from serving our military. Transgender people like Kristin Beck, the woman who was a member of SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden.

The wave of anti-trans laws and executive actions discriminating against transgendered people make it harder for them to exist in public places. If life were imitating art conservative Republicans took a cue from every villain from the X-Men comics.

Even Relatives Can Show Discriminatory Behavior

Early on in THE GIFTED’s inaugural season, the show weaves in how discrimination works and who its perpetrators are. THE GIFTED checks off bigots, the government, and even family members as people who discriminate against mutants. Take one of the series leads, Marcos, for example.

In the early episodes, Marcos talks about the day he received his powers. It was the same day his parents threw him out of his home. This is a recurring theme in the X-Men canon. Families exile their own children just for being born a Mutant. This is all too familiar for LGBTQ youths who make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population.

True Colors Fund LGBT Homeless Teen Graph THE GIFTED
True Colors Fund LGBT Homeless Teen Graph

According to the True Colors Fund, LGBTQ youth make up 7 percent of the general youth, but they account for 40 percent of all homeless youths in the United States. This is an equivalent to 640,000 young people of the 1.6 million youths experiencing homelessness.

Also the Williams Institute at UCLA reveals that 43 percent of LGBTQ youths are forced out by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is second to the same group running away because of their family’s rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity accounting for 46 percent.

It goes without saying that THE GIFTED does not highlight LGBTQ issues like teen homelessness explicitly. However, it does highlight the problem with teen homelessness which is a direct problem for LGBTQ youths. Parents kick out of their own children because they are born with a sexual orientation or gender identity that they don’t agree with. This type of discrimination is why so many LGBTQ youths experience homelessness in the US.

THE GIFTED Reaches Out To MLK’s Moderates

THE GIFTED does not openly deal with issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, or transphobia. The show doesn’t outright champion racial equality or LGBTQ rights either. However, it does share our experiences of discrimination, racism, homophobia, and transphobia in a way that applies to everyone.

No, You Do Not Need Straight Pride

The show tells the audience what it is like to experience those issues but through the life a mutant. It goes back to the X-Men comics using mutants to get people understand what it is like to be Black, Gay, Transgendered, etc. without explicitly saying so. THE GIFTED is reaching out to the moderates on the fence about issues of race, religion, gender, gender identity, and sexuality.

THE GIFTED needs to reach out to the people that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the white moderates. This series is not reaching out to the liberals and progressives who are already fighting for justice for all. It’s not reaching out to the conservatives who pretend that we have already achieved equality after the Civil Rights Movement either. THE GIFTED reaches out to the people in the middle, the people who tend to stay neutral on issues that don’t regard themselves.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham Jail THE GIFTED
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham Jail

These moderates serve as the quintessential tiebreaker when it comes to actual change in our society’s social progress. They buy into the myth that with time things will eventually get better and we will have this broad-reaching equality. This is the same myth Martin Luther King Jr. dispels in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham Jail. King writes:

“Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

In many respects, the inaction of moderates has been almost as consequential as those committing acts of discrimination. Their silence on issues of discrimination is the equivalent to consenting with the practice itself.

So here is where the THE GIFTED comes in. It does what the X-Men comics have always been good at, it reaches out to moderates. It is vital for moderates to experience a series like THE GIFTED because it should help them empathize with those who experience prejudice and discrimination first hand. Hopefully this show can inspire action too.

Why THE GIFTED’s Subtle Take On Discrimination Is Important

I hope THE GIFTED continues to use characters like Blink, Polaris, and Eclipse to expose their audience to experiences of discrimination. Already THE GIFTED pulls from the experiences of historically oppressed people, such as the parallels between Marcos’ backstory and homeless LBGT teens.

Marcos using his powers on Reed Strucker THE GIFTED
Marcos using his powers on Reed Strucker

This works especially well in the politically polarizing climate today. The series takes away divisive subjects like race, sexuality, gender, and gender identity and replaces them with mutants. This makes discrimination easier to empathize with because the audience personalizes the discrimination their favorite characters are experiencing.

THE GIFTED uses characters people are emotionally invested in to make its audience understand how discrimination works against marginalized people. It also goes as far as to help its audience empathize with the experience. This is why this show is essential, and why its subtlety on important issues make it intelligent.

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