There have been plenty of rumors about the future of the X-Men on the big screen, now that the rights to those characters have been reacquired by Marvel Studios, and the continuity of the Fox movies can be all but forgotten (which anyone who has seen Dark Phoenix will agree is probably for the best). And according to Full Circle Cinema, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige is considering casting actors of color as both Magneto and Professor Xavier when they enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In both the original comic books and the screen adaptations, Magneto and Xavier have only ever been presented as white men, played by veteran actors Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy depicting their younger selves. Retconning the two most prominent figures in X-Men mythology to be people of color would certainly fit with the growing diversity of the MCU—but does it fit what we know of the characters?
In short, yes. The entire concept of the X-Men was devised as an allegory of the Civil Rights movement: making their first appearance in 1963, Stan Lee’s mutants are hated, misunderstood and feared by the rest of the world, with Magneto and Xavier functioning as stand-ins for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Both want progress for their marginalized community, but they go about it in vastly different ways. Magneto’s brotherhood attack humanity, and Xavier’s students protect the very people who hate them. As a pop culture phenomenon they have since become a metaphor for outsiders, and parallels are often drawn between mutants and LGBTQ+ people.
Taking that subtext and making it a visible, integral part of an X-Men reboot would strengthen the message of such a movie. And updating these characters needn’t mean overwriting or replacing their existing backstories. For example, one of the most defining elements of Magneto’s character is his identity as a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. The horrors he witnesses at Auschwitz are very much a part of his origin story, and would be as socially relevant today as when he was first created. However, “Jewish” does not necessarily mean “white,” and so having Magneto be both a person of color and a Jew would only further enrich the representation that Marvel are aiming to show going forward.
Kevin Feige has previously spoken about how the MCU will be more diverse in its future phases, telling The Wrap: “This is the way the world is, and the way, certainly, our studio’s going to be run going forward, because it brings about better stories. The more diverse the group of people making the movie is, the better the stories.”
Marvel have yet to confirm that an X-Men movie is in the works, but next year’s Eternals could well set the stage for their introduction, given the connection between mutants and the Eternals in the comics.