In the trailers for X-Men: Apocalypse, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique takes center stage, delivering an emboldening speech to the new X-Men as they prepare for their fight against Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) and his Four Horsemen. So cool, right? Finally, a movie where Mystique is confident about her own value, takes a leadership position, and isn’t pushed around by Erik (Michael Fassbender) and Xavier (James McAvoy)!
Then this happened:
I have not seen X-Men: Apocalypse – it comes out tomorrow, May 27 – so I cannot tell you definitely how Mystique ends up literally in Apocalypse’s hands. But mutant politics and superpowers aside, what we have here is a naked woman being choked by a man three times her size.
Though the shape-shifting Mystique can fight—and well, might I add—her strength does not come from brute force, but rather, agility and athleticism. Apocalypse, on the other hand, heads into the ring boasting immortality, telekinesis, telepathy, superhuman strength, invulnerability, and a whole slew of other mutant abilities. This is very much a one-sided fight.
In the X-Men universe, Apocalypse is all-powerful from the get-go, and his physical violence against Mystique can only be assumed as nothing but destructive. She is little more than a nuisance, a bug to be squished before he razes civilization to the ground.
While having a female protagonist disempowered to the point of physical harm is an unfortunate feature of a summer blockbuster, the most problematic aspect of all of this is that Fox decided to use this visual for the film’s promotional campaign.
Yes, Mystique getting choked out is on a poster.
Exec #1: This is a great poster!
Exec #2: I agree! It’s not problematic at all! pic.twitter.com/roRDiTIeml
— Sasha (@ThatSashaJames) May 24, 2016
It’s one thing to have this imbalance of power featured in the film itself as part of the plot, but it’s a whole other ball game to pick this single visual out of 144 minutes of film and use it as a representation of your entire movie.
There’s an indulgent, gross, and exploitative quality to this decision, where the promotion of the film relies on images of abuse. With Mystique at the mercy of Apocalypse’s destructive will, this poster reinforces a narrative that commandeers and reduces women into a position of helplessness through violence.
It’s understandable that Fox would want to market their film through its most bankable stars—Jennifer Lawrence and Star Wars’ Oscar Isaac—and given the large cast and their respective characters’ alliances, the opportunities for the pair to be seen together are probably few and far between.
The depicted scene is also likely at the climax of a battle between good and evil and—as Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hammered home this year—film audiences like posters with enemies squaring off.
But these points don’t justify the use of promotional materials that perpetuate a narrative of violence against women.
There is nothing fun about seeing anyone—regardless of gender—in pain, so why would anyone think this was a good way to sell a summer blockbuster?
Honestly, all Fox had to do was Photoshop JLaw in a power pose, Avatar her up a bit with some blue filters, and call it a day.
“Sasha James is that really cool friend you hope likes the same movies you do because when that happens you are, if only for a moment, just as cool” (TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies). You can follow her on Twitter @ThatSashaJames.
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