Kirsty Capes on why Rose McGowan is wrong about that X-Men: Apocalypse image…
I’m sure most of the internet / Marvel fandom has seen Rose McGowan’s rant about a rather unseemly X-Men: Apocalypse promo shot over the last couple of days. If you haven’t, here’s a quick run-down of what happened:
Rose McGowan, of 90s Charmed fame and now a political activist and writer, has put Marvel and 20th Century Fox on blast this week for including this shot of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) being strangled by bad guy Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) in their marketing material for X-Men Apocalypse:
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, McGowan said:
“There is a major problem when the men and women at 20th Century Fox think casual violence against women is the way to market a film. There is no context in the ad, just a woman getting strangled. The fact that no one flagged this is offensive and frankly, stupid. The geniuses behind this, and I use that term lightly, need to to take a long hard look at the mirror and see how they are contributing to society. Imagine if it were a black man being strangled by a white man, or a gay male being strangled by a hetero? The outcry would be enormous. So let’s right this wrong. 20th Century Fox, since you can’t manage to put any women directors on your slate for the next two years, how about you at least replace your ad?“
McGowan raises several points in her comments on the image, all of which ought to be addressed, and some of which certainly seem to have polarized the fandom. On the one hand, I think McGowan is right to call out Fox’s lack of female directors in their upcoming productions. Puzzling, too is the lack of female leads in 20th Century Fox movies; from the new Wolverine movie to Kingsman 2 and Assassin’s Creed, the leading ladies in Fox movies are woefully thin on the ground. But that’s a whole other article.
What I find a little more difficult to swallow is McGowan’s assertion that what is being depicted in the image is “casual violence against women”, and that this, in turn, is a reason for Fox to pull the ad. I think McGowan is missing a ginormous point here. That point being that Mystique is not, and as far as I can recall, never has been, a victim based on her gender.
Here’s a little background on Mystique, if you’re not familiar. She’s a mutant; a shapeshifter who has the ability to change her appearance and physicality at will, as well as her voice. She has been alive for over a hundred years, and during that time she has developed unparalleled strategy and commando skills, and training in martial arts. She is fluent in over fourteen languages. She is adept at understanding advanced weaponry. Due to her own abilities, she is particularly good at identifying imposters posing as someone else through body language and behaviours. She is more broadly known as a supervillain who eventually allies with Magneto, but for the purposes of X-Men: Apocalypse, at least, she is a good guy.
She’s not just a pretty face, as misogynists so often like to say.
The thing with Mystique, for anyone who has seen the movie, is that in that final epic battle scene with Apocalypse, she gives as good as she gets. She is most certainly not a victim in any way, shape or form (no pun intended).
McGowan’s outcry that the image of Mystique being choked condones domestic violence completely misses the point. While Mystique is a woman, she is also many other things. She is mind-bogglingly intelligent, an incredible fighter, and, most importantly of all, she is a hero.
As an aside: she exists in a superhero universe. The violence in said universe is neither casual nor domestic, to quote McGowan.
In X-Men: Apocalypse, the stakes are terrifyingly high. Apocalypse is just about ready to destroy the world, and with Xavier incapacitated, Mystique is in charge of the assault to stop him. The image is an embodiment of that.
Pointing out her gender completely disregards the nuanced, multi-faceted, three-dimensional character that Mystique is. It does away with her extra-ordinary powers, her fascinating past and her incredible earned abilities. It reduces her down to one thing; woman.
It also suggests that Mystique cannot look after herself; that she needs protection from social justice pioneers like Rose McGowan and the Twitter elite. The thing is: Mystique doesn’t need protection, especially not from us mere mortals. Mystique is not weak. Mystique is a badass.
The image depicts a part of the movie where the stakes are at their highest: the climax of the story. As a hero, it’s a given that Mystique is down on her luck before, predictably, she and the rest of X-Men come back with one final push and thus eliminate the villain. The hero must be on the brink of death before this momentous denouement. Choosing Mystique as the character to depict this moment does not weaken her; it makes her Apocalypse’s equal.
If anything, having Mystique play such a pivotal role in X-Men: Apocalypse, without the trappings associated with traditional female roles (the romantic interest, the need to be protected) only serves to heighten female empowerment in Hollywood rather than tear it down.
The important thing to note about Mystique is that despite being on the cusp of defeat at the hands of Apocalypse, she is able to overcome, and eventually she defeats him. As McGowan says, there is no context to the image she took issue with, and context is everything. But a moment’s research in to who Mystique is and what she stands for – and let’s not forget that Apocalypse is pretty bad, as bad guys go – will do away with any notion that she is in any way a victim.
Insinuating that she is a victim only serves to play into and amplify pre-existing harmful stereotypes about how women are weak and cannot stand up for themselves.
Note the tagline on the billboard pictured above: Only the Strong will Survive. In X-Men: Apocalypse, Mystique does indeed survive. Apocalypse does not.
Kirsty Capes – Follow me on Twitter