There is currently a lot of talk about a new Magneto in the MCU. Much of the discussion is surrounding the idea that the new Magneto might not be Jewish and be *GASP* a person of color. I have written before about how Magneto being a Holocaust Survivor is an important aspect of the character but I think it is possible (and even essential) that the MCU re-examines this and possibly makes a change that would make Magneto work as a more contemporary character.
Why being a Holocaust Survivor MIGHT not work anymore
Magneto being a victim of one of the largest genocides carried out in recent history has been one of the most character-defining moments. Once Christ Claremont introduced this, Magneto’s aggressive attitude towards humans made sense. He has seen what systematic oppression can lead to. He knows anti-mutant laws and regulation can, and eventually will, lead to the containment and extermination of his people. The problems arise not because of the material but how it no longer realistically fits into a contemporary story. If Magneto was a victim in the Holocaust, at the oldest, he would be a child during the genocide. This would place him in his 90s at best. While it is easy enough to connect his powers to some sort of long-lasting life (this is superhero material) there is still another issue with his old age. Magneto’s relationship with Professor X is paramount to both characters, and the X-Men at large. Professor X and Magneto need to be contemporaries and work as long-lasting foils of each other. A constant back and forth of ideologies, that doesn’t work if Professor X and Magneto have a giant age gap. Basically, the reason a WW2 era Magneto doesn’t work solely because we are becoming distant from the event itself.
A scene from the Magneto Testament. A brilliant comic everyone should read, and further puts into perspective how The Holocaust shaped the character. It is moments like this that cannot be lost but could still work in other circumstances beyond WW2.
The case for an American Black Magneto
As stated earlier, the general rumors surround having a Magneto being represented by a Black actor in the MCU. If you look at Magneto’s Survivor status it works because it is a clear example of systematic oppression. You would have to be blind and in denial to not see how people of color suffer from constant systematic oppression worldwide. Looking just at the United States alone not a day goes by without another story of police brutality and murder of young black men. The prison system has an over-representation of non-white inmates and there is no way that this can be seen as anything other than the targeted attitude of those in power to lock up and oppress people. Slavery ended a long time ago, but the attitudes that brought that forward still poison our society. Magneto could easily be someone who has faced discrimination based on his skin color in modern-day America. It would also help bring full circle the old comparison of Professor X being MLK Jr and Magneto being Malcolm X.
Graph from the Prison Policy Initiative. This clearly shows how People of Color are targeted and over-represented in the incarceration system.
Magneto doesn’t need to be American
His original character was not American, so there is no reason he has to become one. As a person of color, he would work as an African victim of colonization and genocide. The Rwandan genocide is a more recent tragedy that has a similar weight to the Holocaust. In both cases, people were slaughtered solely based on their culture and heritage. Rwandan Magneto works as he would still be a survivor, just from a different genocide. A South African Magneto, who was a victim of the apartheid, could also hit hard. Imagine Professor X being a Nelson Mandela like analog and Magneto being more militant in his desire to overthrow the colonialists. Beyond having Magneto being African he could also work as a victim of the Bosnian Genocide, which would still place him closer to his Eastern European ancestry.
This final possible outcome could work in any place or any origin. Having an LGBTQ Magneto, along with any of the previously mentioned possibilities, could lead to a study in intersectionality. Non-cis-straight white males have it harder in society as they do not come from the same place of privilege. If they want to continue with the connects with genocide and systematic oppression in the real world there are sadly many places where LGBTQ individuals fear for their lives. Films like Moonlight have looked at how important, and essential, it is to move beyond the focus on white LGBTQ issues.
Winning Best Picture, Moonlight showed that there is a place for LGBTQ stories that intersect with other areas of oppression. We need mainstream material to carry the same weight and not simply rely on popcorn action. Magneto could be the catalyst for that.
Why Magneto has to connect with real-world discrimination
The X-Men have always been a political comic with a fairly transparent civil rights allegory. As the world moves forward we need an X-Men franchise that is still analogous to our contemporary society. While the comics have to deal with a long-standing serialized story, the films do not. It would be horrible is suddenly Magneto faced erasure of his Jewish identity in the comic world. But in film, the creators can start fresh and make something that speaks a contemporary message to today’s audiences. Maybe they can make the Holocaust Survivor story work again, but I do not think they have to stay connected to that fact. Chris Claremont used Magneto’s history as a way to give sympathy to the character and make his motivations clear. Magneto was no longer fighting just for mutant rights, but had a connection and reason with a real-world event, away from the fiction of colorful costumes and superpowers. If they changed Magneto to just being a victim of some sort of mutant genocide the weight would not be there, and the creators would be erasing a powerful character’s lineage and cultural identity. By moving it forward the message and intent can remain intact without tarnishing the character. The MCU owes it to itself to keep the message of the X-Men as strong as possible.
Of course, there are many possible outcomes for Magneto to face systematic discrimination beyond the examples I have chosen. I am not trying to put more weight on anyone’s suffering over someone else’s. Sadly, if I were to list every possible group of people that have faced genocide and oppression this article would be longer than this website can handle. I hope that the discussion of how to make Magneto work as a character leads to people looking at how society has failed us throughout history (and how we can use superhero media to help teach that message). I mean no disrespect towards the character’s Holocaust Survival status, and I understand what it means to Jewish representation in comics.