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The Latino Hero You Created Just Had to Have a Drug Cartel Past? You’re Killing Me, The Gifted.

I’ve been really excited for The Gifted, which premieres next week. I’m not even a huge X-Men fan, and yet every trailer has intrigued me. I’m digging the family approach, the fact that it’s about parents protecting their children with newly-discovered mutant abilities from a world hostile against mutants. Yet there’s one element (created specifically for the show, so there’s no source material to blame) that dulls the luster of my excitement.

In an interview with CBR.com, Matt Nix, creator of The Gifted, delves deep into the hows and whys of his new show. A lot of it sounds really cool, and resonates with me. This show sounds like it’s going to be hella political in a way that’s relevant to what’s going on in the country, and the world, right now.

The show takes place in a reality where the X-Men and the Brotherhood are gone. All that’s left are regular, average mutants who are basically second-class citizens. Nix describes the dynamics and the conflicts of privilege and class this way:

“This group is asking itself a lot of the same questions that have been asked in the comics and the movies, but they are asking them from a unique perspective. They don’t have a mansion. They don’t have a jet. They are living in a ruined bank that is falling down and rests on the outskirts of Atlanta. They don’t have anything, including money. […] Some people want to fight. Some people want to find a way to co-exist.

The other side of it is the Strucker family coming into this, having lived on the human side of the equation and enjoyed the rights and privileges that humans have in this society and mutants don’t, really, and not realizing that was the case. They were blind to their own privileges and now they find themselves on the other side of this equation. They are waking to the reality of the world that they live in. Reed Strucker, who was prosecuting mutants, had felt like he was a human person just enforcing the law. He didn’t hate anybody, but now finds he was part of a system that was really hurting people. Caitlin Strucker was a mom who didn’t really think about these issues and now realizes that by not thinking about these issues, she was also part of the problem.”

All of that sounds really awesome, doing the thing I love that’s possible with superhero stories: using them as metaphors for real-world problems and themes. Yay, storytelling!

The show will be using characters familiar to X-Men fans, like Polaris, Blink, and Ahab, and Nix talks about what The Gifted‘s version of those characters will be like. However, there are also characters who are original to this show. Like the Strucker family, for example. And there’s another new mutant, and member of the Mutant Underground, Marcos Diaz, A.K.A. Eclipse.

They created a Latino character for this show? Awesome! I was so excited to see that. The actor who plays him, Sean Teale, is a British actor of Venezuelan, Spanish, and Welsh descent, but the character of Eclipse was born in Mexico. Here’s what Nix had to say about him:

“Eclipse was born in South America. He basically made his way north working with the drug cartels. That was his only opportunity as a kid. His parents kicked him out and the only way he could survive was initially, he was a street rat and he ended up working for the drug cartel. The idea is he came to the attention of the Mutant Underground and they ended up bringing him in as someone who had connections and know how. They are smuggling mutants into Mexico. A lot of times, Eclipse has experience smuggling drugs out of Mexico. The Mutant Underground recognized a hunger in him to do something other than move drugs.

What was important to us with him, and when I was thinking about creating the character, was this idea of exploring somebody who was forced to be an outlaw and that relationship to society, where he was rejected by his human parents. He was struggling to survive. He did things that he’s not proud of in order to survive. At the same time, he cannot really deny that he enjoyed it. The reason that he’s Eclipse is he’s sunshine covered by darkness. There’s a battle within him. He has these dark impulses. That’s what makes him useful to the Mutant Underground. He’s a guy who knows how to kick ass if necessary. He’s a guy who understands how to get things done on the dark side, but he’s trying to help the Mutant Underground. Over the course of the season, he has to reconnect with his past. Everybody struggles with, “Is that a legitimate thing to do?” He hates it. He doesn’t want to do it, but there are circumstances. He could lose friends. Under those circumstances, he is willing to re-engage with a past he left behind.”

And suddenly, my excitement has become muted. Here they are, providing some much-needed Latinx representation, right? Going to all the trouble of creating an all-new character from scratch…and they go “immigrant with a connection to Mexican drug cartels.” Really? REALLY?! That’s like a double whammy of problematic. That this was the go-to.

Because either way this went down, it likely wasn’t great. Either they consciously wanted to create a Latino hero (an admirable goal in and of itself), and when they thought Latino Hero immediately thought “immigrant” and “Mexican drug cartels in his backstory!” OR, they wanted to create a  character specifically to be “somebody who was forced to be an outlaw and that relationship to society,” and they immediately thought “Latino.”

The thing is, I don’t even necessarily have a problem with either one of those elements individually. It’s not that he’s an immigrant that’s the problem. It’s not that he’s a criminal that’s the problem. Either of those could be used to tell very important stories that could actually illuminate the experiences of Latinx if done well.

The problem to me is that having him be both an immigrant and someone with connections to crime, specifically drug cartels which seem to be the only thing people think there is in Mexico, doubles-down on some pretty heinous stereotypes. So often in pop culture, Latinx are both othered and criminalized. And at a time where we’re being forced to stand up for things like DACA, and against things like ICE sanctuary city raids, having a hero who is the exact embodiment of what’s hated feels like an affront.

Could Eclipse not have been an American Latino and still explored all these themes, and if there was a criminal past it couldn’t be, like, some white collar shit? That, to me, would be interesting: having this guy having once been involved in some high-level corporate criminal shenannigans before mutanthood made him fall hard. Or alternately, could he not have been a schoolteacher from Mexico City, who loves kids and thus he has a soft spot for child mutants? There are so many other stories. Why does Eclipse have to rely on the one story we always hear about Latinos.

I’m still going to watch The Gifted, but I’ll be watching it with a very close eye. I’d say, don’t do this to me, show, but it’s already been done. The character choices have already been written and baked into the show. The best we can hope for now is nuance to counteract the stereotype. I wish those choices hadn’t been made in the first place, but here we are.

The Gifted premieres October 2nd at 9PM ET on Fox. 

(image: Fox)

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