Erik Lehnsherr is a mutant that can control metal. He was created in the X-Men comics, better known as Magneto. He first appears in the very first issue of X-Men comic in fact. Over time he has been given a rich character development and been featured in some of Marvel’s greatest stories. Currently there are rumors going around that Disney plans to cast Magneto as a “person of color” when introduced into the MCU. Lately I’ve been on a bad streak when it comes to denouncing rumors, so this won’t be one of those articles. Instead I’m just going to talk about the character, his history, and whether or not this change would affect the core of the character.
Erik grew up in Germany, originally named Max Eisenhardt. His origin story is horrific and one of survival. He was a child born in the ruins of Germany after WW1 and then due to his Jewish religion was put into an internment camp to watch his family and friends be murdered by Nazis in the following years leading into WW2. He eventually grew up into becoming one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel universe. He has mostly been seen as a villain but many times has also been given redemption and put into an anti-hero role. His entire character revolves around the idea: ‘people in power want to exterminate his kind simply because he is different’. His contempt for those who hate him has corrupted his mind. He has fallen into a role of a terrorist that fights fascists by killing anyone that isn’t like him.
The rumors circulating right now are that Magneto could have his origins changed. I understand needing to revamp the story; as time goes on it is harder and harder to believe someone could still be alive from that time period. The rumored changes would set his origin in an African slavery camp and his trauma linked to the Warlords that steal children and force them to murder their own parents. Some of the rumors even link Denzel Washington as the actor in mind to fill the role. Personally I would rather this not be the case. I think the Jewish heritage of the character needs to remain in tact. Magneto is a complex character whose motives are linked to a god complex. Also, while I may be ignorant to most of the African slave trade going on today, it doesn’t seem to hit home enough for the character’s justification and fear. Erik’s family was picked out because they belonged to a specific race, a specific genetic link. That fits the Jewish story more than just being in a neighboring village or city. I understand the need to make some changes and have no issue with diversity; Marvel has proven their dedication to diversity already having 18 black main heroes/villians, not counting the voice acting for any CG characters I might be missing. But maybe this one can go to someone else.
When the X-Men were originally create there was a heavy metaphor for the civil rights movement in the 60’s. Stan Lee even said that Magneto was modeled partly after Malcom X but also Jewish Defense League leader Meir Kahane. Over time the blanket of oppression has unfortunately gotten larger and the X-Men cover so much more than the specific issues for African Americans. People of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and genders have been able to turn to these comics and see a similar struggle they have gone through. Personally, I would like to see Erik be portrayed by an actor from the Middle East. This way he can still be linked to Jewish gencode while offering the MCU more diversity than just white or black.
Finally, I feel like this is the right article to include an idea I have had for a while. There is a potential character I think would perfectly fit the casting of an African American actor. Someone who’s origin story seemed to have been made to specifically represent the history of black people’s history in the United States; Logan “Wolverine” Howlett. This is a character who grew up in colonial times when slavery was still happening, was treated like an animal and so became one, and is used to being a runaway. I would even go as far as to imagine what a slave owner would do when they discovered his lashes from the whipping healed. This also would be a creative way differentiate the character from Hugh Jackman’s portrayal. This is just an idea I’ve been throwing around but I think it would make more sense for this character instead of Magneto.
At the end of the day Marvel can really do whatever the fuck they want and we will all love it. I have no doubt that if Denzel Washington wants the role, he would kill it. Further rumors suggest Giancarlo Esposito could play professor X and now I cannot unsee him bald and in a wheelchair. These are fictional characters and the people that are getting upset about it really have no right to. I personally have an attachment to a story about Nazis because I have a Polish heritage. But at the end of the day we also already saw that story three times and we can see it again in the comics if we choose to read them. No matter who is cast, the point of the X-Men story is to show the struggles of how people with different genetics are mistreated, and that’s a story a lot of people need right now. Both to show the horrors of the oppressors and to show the wrong way to deal with the trauma.
News heard and article written by: Troy Smith