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Who Else is Upset About the Death in "X-Men: First Class"?

by Christopher Campbell
June 7, 2011 2:07 AM
23 Comments
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I was going to be specific in the title, at least to imply that I'm referring to a certain death in particular, but outside of the potential spoiler material I also want to get something else more general out of the way first: there are a LOT of deaths in "X-Men: First Class." While it may not be the traumatic deluge of blood in the peak sequence of last year's "Piranha 3D," the CIA massacre at Langley was at least as surprisingly lethal as the mermaid bit in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." Actually, going by Entertainment Weekly's annual (thankfully still going after all these years) Summer Movie Body Count tally, the 18 pirates used as bait in "POTC" are nothing compared to the 65 agents slaughtered mostly by Azazel and Sebastian Shaw in "X-Men." Also according to EW, "Thor" had more death overall than "X-Men" (they don't count the Holocaust, because it's off screen, but I guess they also must not have counted the crew of the Russian ship, which were also all murdered by Azazel), but it's mostly Frost Giants who get it in "Thor," not humans. Certainly the latter is more affecting to audiences.

The most affecting, though, is not a human. It's Darwin (Edi Gathegi), a mutant. But a black mutant, which obviously has to upset the guy who compiled this video, and anyone else understandably upset about the black guy dying first in mainstream Hollywood blockbuster movies. Over the weekend I primarily saw the jokes and complaints relegated to Twitter, where film critic Scott Weinberg kidded about "looking forward to 'X-Men Origins: Darwin.'" Others were more seriously pissed about the scene, which has been called "unnecessary."

He can even transform into pure energy, which makes his quick, and rather easy exit puzzling to me! His death didn’t really bring about anything of significance, so why kill him off?

I suppose the argument could be made that his murder at the hands of Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw was the motivation for the rest of the team to launch into action and avenge him? Meh… I think they already had enough reason, without Darwin having to die.

The above criticism comes from Tambay, at the fellow indieWIRE blog Shadow and Act, who has mentioned his disapproval in two posts so far. The second quickly moves on to a complaint about "Super 8," but first he writes: "Pretty ironic since the X Men story, from what I understand, not being a comic book follower, is supposed be a metaphor for racism and tolerance. Well the film sure has plenty of the first, and none of the second."

That post isn't so much against Darwin being killed first as killed at all, mainly since he's the only male black character. He's also upset that so few other critics (or blogs outside the other ones dealing with race or the African diaspora) have mentioned let alone criticized the death. Erik Childress' review at eFilmCritic is cited as a single example. I must note that I addressed the death with minor criticism and analysis in both of my "XMFC" posts, with the second offering an excuse for the plot point in the perspective of the film's historical subtexts: "I’ll at least choose to accept Edi Gathegi/Darwin’s demise in spite of his power to adapt as a commentary on comparative assimilation difficulties for his race."

Discussions have been taking place on message boards, though. But the conversations are now turning towards the question of whether or not Darwin was even killed at all. Some point to the fact that his powers of adaptation make him immortal, and this is something apparently addressed with the character in the comics. Others simply remind that if there's no body, the presumed dead character is not really dead. He'll be resurrected in some form for the sequel, they say. Gathegi has said in interviews that he'd like to return, but that's likely just said to hide his fate in this film from being spoiled.

That doesn't change the way it appears on screen, of course. For now. I have one final thing to address and it has to do with the fact that Darwin is not the first character to die, so he does not fit that cliche trope. And even without all the Nazi hunting and anonymous CIA slaughter, there's one seemingly major character who gets offed right before Darwin without much upset from anyone: "Man in Black Suit." That would be Oliver Platt's character, who is pretty much set up as a significant character, if only because it's played by a familiar face like Platt, and I have to admit being rather shocked when he's dropped from the sky by Azazel and not saved (Pajiba agrees Platt's talents were wasted in the role). And unlike Darwin, there's no chance of him being still alive through mutant power and special comic book soap opera logic.

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More: Comic Book Movies

23 Comments

  • John M. Reed | April 12, 2013 12:49 AMReply

    [Brian Griffin and a blind man are watching 'First Class'. Brian is describing what is going on]
    BRIAN: Okay, their. . . talking about super-powers or something. I wasn't really paying attention. . . Nothing happening. . . Nothing happening. . . Something about a submarine, or something. . . Okay, they meet this really cool black guy, that can adapt to survive. He calls himself "Darwin" that's pretty awesome. He's probably the key to all of this. . . Nothing happening. . . Nothing happening. . . Darwin just died:
    [Brian looks around the theater]
    And allot of people look pissed.

  • lemmon | August 29, 2012 6:32 PMReply

    the problem with his death isn't that he died first, it's that he is the only black character in the movie, and he dies. Thats the point. it's sad that always has to happen. I can count on one how many black people survive the whole movie.

  • keelan stokes | May 15, 2012 4:22 AMReply

    I don't think he died just changed to energy, never shows up again I grant you but given his power I can't believe he actually died...just saying...

  • UpMySleeves | November 20, 2011 11:40 PMReply

    After watching my sister go on and on about how good it was I finally decided to see it...barely 30 minutes into the movie and the black guy dies o_O
    Me: "So does anyone else on the good team die [In this movie]?"
    Sister: "No, just Darwin!"
    Me: *Looks back at the screen to see the other characters reaction to Darwin's death.*
    Movie: *Everyone looks sad for a while - a little bit of sniffling - and then Darwin is tucked away as a motive for the fight they were already going to have."
    Me: "FFFFFUUUUUUUU!"

  • Brad Nelson | August 12, 2011 4:46 AMReply

    Point blank!! Dawrin can't be killed!!! It's impossible unless the writers of "xmen first class" are making there own story up and not honoring the essence of the xmen comics. In that cause they should written in wings for Havok, let Wolverine teleport and let professor x keep his legs.

  • splendidangst | August 7, 2011 5:44 AMReply

    You people REALLY need to brush up on your X-men history. For starters this is ONLY Earth 1610, it's not the actual current time line for OUR reality, this is what has happened once before, before Cable goes back and kills Xavier to keep things like this from happening. Darwin, IS still alive. And as people have commented, just because his body is gone does NOT mean he himself cannot come back, unless you don't remember the death Xavier in X3. Body totally destroyed yet, he comes back at the very end...how? Well, um, it's XMEN!!! If you actually took the days it would take you to read up on the whole 1610 time line you would probably slap yourself for having jumped the gun without checking to see what bullets you were firing.

  • reasonable1 | July 18, 2011 11:52 AMReply

    One thing that set the x-men comics apart from others is that it was based on the premise of cultural tolerance. it was created around the 60's in the heat of racial conflict where we as a country was being forced to look in the mirror and see the truely evil things that were being done to men, women and children because of the color of their skin. X-Men series took that energy and put it in a context where people could step outside and see it from a point of view that wasn't pointing a finger at them or in the context of "How would you feel if".

    They had kind of a formula and if you watch alot of the tv programs that are successful follow today. (Not all but most) you'll see this formula
    1) Cultural diversity
    2) A variety of personality diversity
    3) They all have something to contribute to the team.
    4) The team isn't a top down leadership style it's more of a flat heirachy.
    5) They all have strengths and they all have weaknesses
    6) They all have their weaknesses exposed and the team supports them.

    Back in the day you had no idea which character was going to step-up their game and save the day which was unique to say the least.

    Many people don't pickup on it because they don't relate to certain character or can't identify with the character so when they are killed off they don't notice. If the character that they relate to is killed off and is killed of in 80% or more of the action movies that are made they'll notice.

    I'm banking Marvel can turn around their comic sales if they went back to this model. I'll also bet that they'll do better in the box office if they applied it to their movie model as well.

    Let me be clear: No one is saying to degrade anyone else's image or kill off some other demograph just that there is a pattern when it comes to African-Americans in many action/horror films and that they are almost gauranteed to be killed off in the movie. Things are much better than they have been but it's obvious that things can still be allot better.

  • TruthBeTold | July 4, 2011 10:42 AMReply

    Okay...I may have been too harsh...a little bit upset...I'm an aspiring writer who dreams of writing blockbusters...but the more i watch hollywood the thinner i see my chances failing because i feel like I have to be white to make it...I'm not being racist...I'm only appealing to hollywood to give black kids something to aspire to...seeing hancock and I, robot made me believe in myself...x-men first class? esteem down the drain...of course there was storm, but was that all? have to write about gangsters and stuff...hollywood should change its stance...like really...especially disney and all these other kids' film companies...kids grow up watching these movies...gi joe, superman, spiderman, x-men, avengers, green lantern...I don't want my nephew to be watching scarface or american gangster and say: i want to be like that guy!...give all kids hope and aspirations...to me darwin signified a lot...for him to just die like that...

  • TruthBeTold | July 4, 2011 9:58 AMReply

    I won't back down on this...darwin's death may symbolize anything from true heroism in the face of cowardice to any other thing...hollywood is racist no doubt...how can the only black character, the only person who CANNOT die, die? so we get rid of the painful black face and then we can enjoy the movie?

    I wasn't the only one upset...I'm a big fan of x-men, and i begged my friends to go watch it, only to watch their disappointed faces as the only person who could avoid death in all aspects die...because he was black...time to speak the truth and stop biting our tongues...spiderman is based in new york but you'll only see one black face in the whole movie...all x-men movies have never shown a black face before first class...superman? show me a black man...black man can never be a successful superhero...which is why black kids grow up watching gangsters as their heroes because they are their only larger-than-life people they can look up to...I'm waiting for the day we have a true black superhero...perhaps not in my lifetime...perhaps not in my grandchild's lifetime...and i'm only 22...perhaps if i wrote about a black superhero i would get rejected first class?

  • Ray | June 21, 2011 9:00 AMReply

    I was bumbed-out for about a half hour or so after the killing of Darwin. After my expectations were raised with regards to the potential of this black x-man's character, killing him off was liked being sucker punched! What a blantant display of racism! I was stunned that in 2011, after electing our first black president in America, that such an audacious display of racism is still me made by Hollywood. On top of all this, the black female mutant was a low-class stripper and the first of the x-men to over to the evil side!

  • Mark | June 12, 2011 1:34 AMReply

    It was disappointing to see the black super hero die (or exit) so early, in what appears to be his death. I think the real issue is that fact that this is a movie. That means, it is based on the creative means and autonomy of writers. So, whether or not he comes back (in another movie) is a mute point. As the impact, affect of this movie has happened--in real time. I guess with that autonomy the writers could have easily had him show up towards the end of the movie...to help others. The disappointment for me, does not have me point it to racism or anything...it stems from the platform that was not used, which could have contributed to a positive message of strengthening unity and race-relations that is so much needed in our country.

  • icon | June 9, 2011 6:45 AMReply

    it has been disneylized look how all the marvel stuff is rebooted with diz kidz, darwin's death was clearly racist

  • jvt87 | June 8, 2011 4:55 AMReply

    Good column. In an otherwise unexpectedly good movie, it was depressingly retro to see the lone black hero once again get dusted early and unnecessarily. Yeah, Darwin may evolve, but not so your readers.

    Just in passing, I'm not sure how Zoë Kravitz, with two half-black, half-Jewish parents, would be considered 1/4 or 3/4 anything, but the character Angel Salvadore plays as mixed raced Hispanic rather than African-American.

  • chuck | June 8, 2011 3:52 AMReply

    the black guy dies first whats new

  • Sketchee | June 7, 2011 8:45 AMReply

    A white supremacist nazi killed Darwin? I don't think that's as surprising as that his character would allow Angel Salvadore to join his side...

  • Matthew | June 7, 2011 6:56 AMReply

    First off, darwins power is to evolve in any situation. secondly we never saw a body. Third, there is no reason that due to Darwin's mutation that his body didn't change into something more malleable and unrecognizable. I mean in the comics didnt he hide himself in Vulcans psyche to avoid death? whats to say he doesn't come back for the next X-men movie?for all we know Nathaniel essex could be introduced and scrape up some gene material and use it to bio engineer the morlocks or something. I am just saying, its a very open loop hole that can be exploited, so dont count darwin out yet.
    nuff' said.

  • PEZ | March 4, 2012 9:57 PM

    I know I'm late with this but I have just seen the movie for the first time. I have to say that whether he comes back in the sequal or not is irrelevant. The fact is they got rid of the black guy 30 min. into the movie. And they had a crap load of movie left where he could have done something...anything other than die before this group properly begins to fight.

  • Will | June 7, 2011 6:21 AMReply

    Reading this article was a waste of my time. The movie showed a glimpse of realism of war and that not everyone survives, despite color.

    Really? Racism? Please. If anything Darwin took the risk the white people didn't making him even more of a hero. Is that racism too?

    Here are two other movies I just thought off the top of my head where the "black" guy dies first/ only one to die: the newest predator movie, and transformers. Jazz was depicted as a black guy with personality and voice. He too fought megaton one o. One heroically and died. Is that racism too????

    Get the heck over color of skin and their stereotypes. I love this site but this article oisses me off. It is stupid crap like this that prolongs REAL racism....

    - a white guy supporting Herman Cain for pres.

  • Jae | March 27, 2012 5:19 PM

    http://jezebel.com/5896408/racist-hunger-games-fans-dont-care-how-much-money-the-movie-made

    No big deal, huh? These are the people who think like you.

  • Christopher Campbell | June 7, 2011 4:16 AMReply

    Yes, you're right. I meant to specify that Tambay said only MALE black character. Actually he used the word "brother," and then I messed up when I changed the wording to simply "black character," without noting the gender.

  • OIC | June 7, 2011 3:56 AMReply

    To be fair it sucks that Darwin was killed without really showing off his abilities, he was not the only black mutant in this movie. Although, not knowing that Angel was played by Zoe Kravitz (i.e. Lenny Kravitz's Daughter) by rule she is either 1/4 or 3/4 Black.... I am just saying!

  • Pookiefreak | June 7, 2011 3:48 AMReply

    On a more serious note, Darwin's death was symbolic of what all the X-Men lacked up to that point - the willingness and courage to sacrifice one's life for a higher calling - even if that calling meant protecting those who persecuted and hated you. Even dying at their hands. Or worse, dying at the hands of your fellow man who simply do not agree with your stance on an issue. My niece loved the film, but was saddened by his death. When I explained how in many ways it symbolized the risk President Obama made when he chose to run for president, and the risk he now faces as our first African American president, she began to understand. She said, 'Some people hate him because he is black, even though he is our President just like all the other Presidents before him.' We then had a talk about how an African American has risen to the highest office in our nation, and he still has his intellect, courage, leadership and brilliance questioned or disregarded by racists because of the color of his skin. I am white, my niece is hispanic. She said, 'So, could that happen to me too?' That one I couldn't answer because if I did, I would have cried. Pretty heavy discussion that resulted from the death of a prominent character in a comic book movie. As children, older generations learned about loss through the death of Bambi's mother. Children now learn about racism and its horrible consequences through comic book films such as X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.

  • Pookiefreak | June 7, 2011 3:10 AMReply

    Let me get this straight. Disney buys Marvel. We all freak out that they're gonna 'Disneyize' and sanitize Marvel flicks. Then Fox goes mature and adult with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. And, you're upset about it? Are you freakin' serious?
    CARS 2 is on the way this summer. Go see that. I don't think anyone spins out in the final lap and gets damaged beyond repair.

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