Immigrant is the New Mutant – A Look at Logan (2017) and Neoliberalism

The release of the “Logan” trailer set the tone to an apocalyptic X-Men film starring an aged and dying Wolverine. When I first watched the trailer I was really only interested in seeing Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of Wolverine’s character, and iconic portrayal by all standards. But I wasn’t dedicated to seeing it as soon as possible, in fact, I saw it with a friend several weeks after its release. I was only motivated to watch the film when friends and family mentioned that it actively addressed an anti-immigrant rhetoric. What really hooked me to watch this film was these same friends mentioned that the Spanish dialogue was not translated for the audience. A movie that doesn’t entirely cater to a white monolingual audience? This interested me even more.

!!!BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Logan1
Logan, he’s in a movie now. For the ninth time. Here we go.

A friend and I went into the theater expecting to maybe see some references to immigration politics, someone alluding to an idiotic Cheeto as the reason for the apocalypse, etc. Surprisingly, and painfully, the movie did much more than that. After my first screening, we left the movie depressed, the movie had hit way too close to home for the both of us. I wanted to explore the film more and the complexities of its balance of what it did so overtly well but what it still missed the mark on.

Unfortunately, my initial watch was distracted by it’s clear stance on immigration, it’s incorporation and destruction of bodies of color, and its R-rated gore, no doubt influenced by Deadpool’s success in the superhero franchise.

This meant I needed to watch it again.

On my second screening, I could take notes and understand more of the nuances of the movie. And concluded that while “Logan” is an interesting dance between metaphors of femicidios, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and neoliberalism, it does so at the cost of bodies of color, especially women of color.

Logan2
Logan, originally a non-mutant passing white dude, now being hunted down by mercenaries because Whiteness was never real.

Unity in Whiteness – Powered by Chrysler

Throughout the movie there are clear depictions of whiteness. Logan, a Canadian immigrant, is very much white and benefits from his whiteness throughout the film. But more than that, his whiteness protects him from border patrol and leaves him unaffected by the whiteness of others.

In the beginning of the film, Logan works as a sort of Lyft driver. Most of his rides are across the border, specifically El Paso, Texas, a city with a lot of racial tension toward Mexicans and immigration (more on that later). We hear Logan listening to the radio, broadcasters making remarks on mutant politics and immigration politics. We hear someone say, “It’s 2029, why are we still talking about mutants?” We quickly see a change in context as Logan transports several white passengers across the border. The first is a stereotypical Texan cowboy on his cell phone “I was just down there sealing up the fence.” The next passengers are a group of rowdy white frat boys shout from the sun roof “U.S.A! U.S.A!” as they literally cross the border. We see border patrol standing by with an AK47, seemingly protecting their right to cross safely.

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Pierce, mercenaries and the Mexican border patrol, you know kind of the same thing.

The metaphor is quite clear at this point, mutants and immigrants are being subjected to violence and discrimination at the benefit of white bodies. White bodies benefit from what Harris (1993) has described as “Whiteness as Property.” White non-mutant individuals obtain property (passports, protection, transportation) and obtain racial, and genetic dominance over people of color. Moreover, there is an importance in the displacement and denial of benefits from people of color (Lipsitz, 1998). Mutant characters and especially immigrant mutant characters are unable to obtain any of these rights. Moreover, Logan’s whiteness allows him the space to obtain a sense of unity or benefits, despite being a mutant.

Logan4
Policia Federal, the US isn’t the only country with a militarized police state and inhumane treatment of immigrants.

A few minutes into the film we see Logan travels south of the border to take care of Charles Xavier, now medically sedated because of his seizures (I told you there are spoilers!). At this point, Logan crosses the border with zero trouble and simply says hello to Sam, no doubt a reference to Uncle Sam, he shows no paper, registration or permission to travel back and forth. Logan is unaffected by both anti-immigrant and anti-mutant rhetoric. His whiteness protects him from the impact of nationalist references and he “passes” as a non-mutant

However, once his mutant identity becomes a point of contention unity is no longer an option. His whiteness, as James Baldwin (1984) may state, is now a lie. Logan paid the price to be white through his apathy towards white supremacy. He transported white passengers, he is apathetic towards the discrimination of mutants, and in a past lives he hunted mutants, was a veteran, and participated in other aspects of whiteness.

Neoliberalism as a tool for U.S. Imperialism

Not even thirty minutes into the film and Logan, Xavier, and Laura the young Mexican mutant, are running for their lives from ex-military and mercenary Donald Pierce. Gabriela, the Mexican nurse who pays Logan to take Laura to Eden, has been murdered but leaves behind a recording of the crimes against humanity that she was witnessed. Gabriela shows Logan and Charles the operations of Transigent, a U.S. owned company operating in Mexico conducting human experiments that are considered illegal in the U.S. and Canada. The company is producing mutant children “born to Mexican girls no one can find anymore,” with no birth certificates and trained to be soldiers. All but two of the youth in this lab are youth of color. Unintentional or not, the director has alluded to femicidos occurring in Mexican border towns such as Juarez. Much like in real life, these systemic and violent attacks on women were encouraged through neoliberal US intervention. Just as NAFTA created inexpensive labor for the U.S. in border towns, Transigent did the same. Transigent’s illegal and inhumane experiments on Mexican women created the very “problem” that they are trying to control: the mutant children.

As Heywood (1992) noted Neoliberalism and its ideologies reflect the economic interest of the privileged class. In this class those are U.S. businesses and non-mutants. In this metaphor, the mutant children of color are products. They’re production of neoliberalism which allows them the privilege of economic freedom, the right to own, use, and dispose of their property (Hayek, 1945). This is actively practiced as mercenaries for the company attempt to own and dispose of the youth while seeking economic benefits.

We quickly learn that Transigent has sent Pierce to capture all the escaped children before they reach the Canadian and receive asylum. This is an expanded reflection of neoliberalism. As Harvey (2005) describes, neoliberalism is also an effort to restore power to economic elites and privilege groups. As the immigrant youth become too powerful to control the goal of the company is to restore their power and privilege. The plot becomes clear at this point in the film and Logan embarks on a mission to take Laura to the meet point Eden, where she will join the other mutant children and cross the border to protection.

Superpowered Immigrants a counter story

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Laura and two mutants running towards the border, away from the mercenaries.

An interesting interjection in the film is the incorporation of X-Men comics, although not fully explained, the X-Men comics are part of the reality, one which Logan dismisses as “bedtime stories for bed-weters.” However, Logan soon realized that Laura’s coordinates to Eden are from the X-men comics. Logan dismisses her journey telling her that it doesn’t exist and it’s made up. Laura is persistent and speaks (after an hour and a half of silence) and forces him to take her there. Logan reluctantly agrees and to his surprise Eden is real. The storytelling in the movie convinces us that Eden is not real, much like the American Dream, it is made up and exists in fictional books. To our relief it becomes real, but more so, it separates itself from the traditional American Dream (Anguiano & Chavez, 2011). It is not success based on meritocracy, instead Eden is Laura’s family, community, and her own development. This is an invigorating escape from the reality we currently face as immigrants in this country. The encounter with Eden begins to form a counter story on the immigration experience. In Eden, we are reunited with the mutant youth of color. Rictor, a brown boy oversees communications at Eden and the trip across the border. Logan, now the only adult in this space, is no longer the leader, instead it’s Rictor. Logan finds himself with several questions and concerns and tries to take the lead. Rictor stands firm on his decisions and continues to maintain leadership. Not only that but Rictor is also in communication with Canada securing their asylum into the country. This is not often found in the immigration process. Here we see a young brown boy in a position of power and empowering other mutant youth of color.

There is also a sense of childhood and innocence involved in Eden. In one scene, we see the youth cutting Logan’s beard to resemble trademark his comic book counterpart. The youth giggle and run off before Logan can reprimand them. This is a refreshing moment of returned innocence in an experience where youth are often forced to let go of childhood innocent through trauma and violence (Horton, 2008).

In the morning, they begin their journey across the border. However, they quickly find themselves chased down by the team of mercenaries carrying weapons and chasing them with tanks. This, much like our current police state, shows an excessive show of force on youth of color. There are disturbing scenes where a black boy is chased and ultimately knocked down by the mercenaries carrying weapons. These scenes repeat themselves with black and brown girls and boys as they continue to be captured. However, the youth use violent measures to escape. One brown girl freezes the arm of a mercenaries and breaks free, chunks of frozen flesh flying everywhere. Another brown boy uses plants to attack a mercenary and ultimately crushes him until he explodes. The children are killing the mercenaries and protecting themselves and each other while trying to cross the border. An empowering showcase that despite their age, their race, their immigration status, they are more powerful and can protect themselves. At the end of the film Pierce is the last mercenary left. Throughout the movie had been the most vocal about his hate towards these mutants, an important point to remember. Moreover, He incorporates a “good immigrant” vs “bad immigrant” narrative to compare the mutant youth with other “pure mutants.” He even refers to them as mutie, a derogatory term for mutants in the comics.

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A mutant youth of color crushing border militarization.

In a climatic show of force the mutant youth surround Pierce and simultaneously use their powers to kill him in satisfying show of, not power, but protection. Pierce was in a lot of way the embodiment of the militarization of the border, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the police state. It is youth of color, mutants, who finish him without the help of the white savior, the adult ally, or anyone else.

These final scenes were reminiscent of counter storytelling. As Delgado (1989) states counter stories are a combination of reality and story used to construct an in-depth word. The movie incorporated the reality of the immigration system and alluded to the reality of individuals crossing the border. While watching these scenes my reality and the reality of my community has taught me that the youth crossing the border were going to be caught and face further oppression. Primarily because a dominant narrative has ingrained in me that youth of color are helpless against military, police, and border patrol. While I don’t believe this narrative, I was still fearful in these scenes and convinced they would be captured. However, the counterstory portrayed the immigrant youth of color as powerful, capable to protecting themselves and each other, and crossing the border safely. This portrayal dismantles a mater narrative, and disrupted the reproduction of these structures in the film.

Final Thoughts

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Oh, look a black character…and he’s gone.

In the end the mutant youth make their way to Canada to cross the border and reach haven. The film clearly evoked several feelings and triggered personal experiences. Although these were some interesting and important point made throughout the film, it can be argued that it achieves these feelings at the cost of bodies of color, specifically women of color. The very first scene of the film is a portrayal of stereotypical cholos trying to steal Logan’s car and then they try to kill him. They fail and he kills them instead, in a VERY violent display of force. The violence on bodies of color does not stop there.

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TFW white liberalism puts you in a film, only to have white supremacy kill you off.

Gabriela, the Mexican woman who is trying to save Laura, is killed by Pierce. Although her death is not portrayed, her lifeless body is portrayed on the screen for an unnecessary amount of time.  Moreover, there are consistent messages of violence on Mexican women through Transigent’s experiments. Laura’s body is also severely and violently attacked throughout the film, more so than Logan’s body. At one point a harpoon is shot through her torso. Although she heals because she is a mutant, it was a particularly violent scene to witness. Lastly, the only black characters in the film are killed by Logan’s clone (another spoiler!). They are in the film for less than 20 minutes and are quickly killed off. The inconstancy in the portrayal of people of color suggests interest convergence as a possible reason for the portrayal and their focus on an immigrant narrative. As Derrick Bell (1980) stated interest convergence is an instance in which white people support racial justice only when it benefits them. It is possible the director of this film practiced interest convergence when creating this film. Although the film takes some stances on the anti-immigrant narrative, the portrayal of people of color is stereotypical, disposable, and one dimensional. The inclusion of this narrative clearly attracts an audience, it attracted me to watch it. This evokes the question of how we can continue to demand inclusivity in our media and demand that it’d be intentional.

References

Anguiano, C. A., & Chávez, K. R. (2011). an Immigrants and the Naturalization of the American Dream. Latina/o Discourse in Vernacular Spaces: Somos de Una Voz?, 81.

Baldwin, J. (1984). On being white… and other lies. Essence14(12), 90-92.

Bell Jr, D. A. (1980). Brown v. Board of Education and the interest-convergence dilemma. Harvard Law Review, 518-533.

Delgado, R. (1989). Storytelling for oppositionists and others: A plea for narrative. Michigan Law Review87(8), 2411-2441.

Harris, C. I. (1993). Whiteness as property. Harvard law review, 1707-1791.

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism.

Hayek, F. A. (1945). The use of knowledge in society. The American economic review, 519-530.

Heywood, A. (1992). Liberalism. In A. Heywood’s Political ideologies: An introduction, pp. 15-52. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Horton, S. (2008). Consuming childhood:” Lost” and” ideal” childhoods as a motivation for migration. Anthropological Quarterly81(4), 925-943.

Lipsitz, G. (1998). The possessive investment in whiteness: How white people profit from identity politics. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

 

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cncarvajal

Cynthia Carvajal is currently a Doctoral Student in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Arizona. she was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and immigrated to East Los Angeles, CA when she was 5 years old. For the next 14 years of her life she remained in the U.S as an undocumented immigrant with her father and older sister. Upon receiving permanent residency she was able to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She continued her education by obtaining a Masters in Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. During her time in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. she worked with teachers and counselors to develop and further advocate for undocumented and DACAmented students.

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