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A Black Magneto in the MCU Might Be Brilliant (But He Should Still Be Jewish)

It is inevitable that the X-Men -- and their ultimate nemesis, Magneto -- will make their way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many have speculated how the MCU might bring in these mutants in a way that stands apart from Fox's decades-spanning franchise. One rumor gaining popularity is that Marvel Studios will cast a black actor to play Magneto or Charles Xavier, with some reports presenting Denzel Washington as a top contender for the role of the Master of Magnetism.

Whether Washington takes the role is mostly irrelevant, but Magneto's background is a core component of his character. As a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust, his experience with antisemitism informs much of his actions. Magneto being black is not a bad idea -- but if they do make him black, he should remain Jewish.

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What Is the Core of Magneto's Character?

Magneto, on a fundamental level, is a man who has faced oppression in one form or another all his life. He has seen the worst of humanity. As a Jewish boy, he suffered at the hands of the Nazis. As a mutant, he watched humanity declare open war on a race of people who just wanted to live normal lives. The intersectional oppression he has experienced over the course of his life leads him to believe there is no way for humanity to tolerate anything different from themselves.

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This aspect of Magneto is core to his characterization. However, not every version of the character involves the Nazis. In the Ultimate X-Men, Magneto grew up with Weapon X, and was horrified by the mutant experimentation he witnessed. Ultimate Magneto also tends to be a more violent supervillain than well-meaning extremist, as he often prioritizes destroying mankind without creating a sanctuary for mutants.

During the Ultimatum story, Magneto uses his powers to affect Earth's polarity, creating a series of superstorms that threaten to flood the planet. His actions here indicate he wants to destroy the world. He doesn't seem to care if he kills humans or mutants. This rang false for a lot of fans of Magneto.

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So, the two cores of Magneto's character are that he's a victim of multiple forms of bigotry and wants to put mutants on top of the societal food chain. These two aspects feed into one another. If one or both of these aspects are missing, Magneto's not going to feel like Magneto.

The Benefits of a Black Magneto

It is undeniable that black people are an oppressed minority, especially in America. From slavery to Jim Crow to the modern era, racism remains a horrific reality for people living in the United States.

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In many respects, it is an aspect yet to be explored onscreen by the X-Men. In none of the franchise's films has a character's race really played a role in his or her characterization, despite multiple opportunities. Storm and Darwin are black, but they face no overt racism. That's especially apparent with Darwin, who is alive during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, only to have the script completely ignore the potential that brought to his story.

A black Magneto would allow the filmmakers to directly address one of the greatest ills of Western society. Many metaphors for oppression fall short because the storytellers never draw a direct comparison between the fictional oppressed group and its real-world counterpart.

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The 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills directly compares mutant oppression to real-world bigotry. It remains one of the most effective depictions of bigotry against mutants fans have experienced, because readers are constantly reminded of real-world ills. Lynch-mob imagery, religious fundamentalism and racial slurs remind readers that, yes, what you're reading about actually happens.

The Erasure of Pain

Red Skull Magneto header

However, by changing a character like Magneto, a well-known Jewish character, the storytellers run the risk of erasing the cultural pain of the Jewish people. The Holocaust is one of the worst genocides in history, with millions of Jewish people being systematically killed for the circumstances of their birth.

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In attempting to present the pain of an oppressed people, it is incredibly problematic to erase the pain of another group. In a society where antisemitic groups are gaining cultural influence, to ignore the horrors of the Holocaust would be a huge problem.

So, how does one balance the two problems? It's very simple: interracial marriage.

True Intersection

If Magneto is to appear in the world of 2020 as an X-Men villain, he'd be too young to have experienced the Holocaust firsthand. Perhaps one of his parents was a survivor who married a person of color. Throughout his life, young Erik Lehnsherr would be bombarded by bigotry from all sides. When his mutant abilities manifest, he would therefore have the power to strike back at his oppressors for the first time in his life. He'd be given a real perspective of intersectional oppression while also having the power to do something about it.

It's uncertain if the filmmakers would make this version of Magneto Wanda Maximoff's father. Given the fate of their father -- blown apart by one of Tony Stark's missiles -- it would further tie Magneto's oppression to the greater world of the MCU. Much like Magneto in X-Men: Apocalypse, his one sliver of happiness in a life of pain would be soiled by circumstances beyond his control.

The circumstances of the world and Magneto's oppression would create a villain that represents everything Magneto is while still existing in the MCU.

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