The X-Men have always been a metaphor for minorities, but aside from a few lines here and there (including the famous “Have you tried not being a mutant?”), the movies have pretty much glossed over that. To be fair, a lot of X-Men comics themselves gloss over the fact to simply try and tell compelling superhero stories, but there are also plenty that dig deep into the metaphor, despite how problematic it can appear at times.
The big budget X-Men films that Fox have made have mainly stayed away from delving too deep into the metaphor, which is probably for the best, since the movies have a limited amount of time.
However, The Gifted is a television show and television allows for a much longer time to tell stories and dig deeper into themes and subtext. And even with only two episodes aired, The Gifted has shown itself to be deeply political about the mutants-as-minority metaphor. So let’s break it down:
A familiar future
The Gifted doesn’t take place in a world where the X-Men fight for mutant rights — no, the X-Men and the Brotherhood have both disappeared and mutant rights are nearly non-existent. Sure, it’s not illegal to be a mutant, but as the second episode showed us, mutant healthcare is extremely hard to come by and if you can’t pass for human, forget about getting a job. Clarice (Jamie Chung) was reduced to stealing from a supermarket out of desperation and then was arrested for it.
Take the show and replace “mutant” with “illegal immigrant” and “Sentinel Services” with “ICE agents” and suddenly this bleak dystopia for mutants is our current situation. Heck, the first episode even mentioned a “wall” when Marcos told Reed about moving his family to Mexico. The Gifted is merely taking a sideways look at it — doing what science fiction can do best, taking a look at the present by filtering it through an extraordinary element.
The contrast between characters
Ostensibly, the main characters of the show is the Struckers, a nuclear family of white people. But the other main characters — the members of the Mutant Underground — are, in fact, all portrayed as minorities: Marcos Diaz (Eclipse) is Colombian (according to his actor), John Proudstar (Thunderbird) is Native American, Clarice Fong (Blink) is Asian, and Lorna Dane (Polaris) is a someone with a mental illness (she also may be Jewish, considering her father is Magneto, but that also depends on how she was raised). Making them real minorities in addition to being fictional minorities adds more of an element of realism — and lets the show contrast the characters with the Struckers.
The second episode, which pairs Marcos and Caitlin Strucker, gives us a great example of this as Marcos tells her about the lack of mutant healthcare and she confesses her ignorance of how bad it was. Later on, he tells her that his own parents kicked him out when they learned he was a mutant. It’s almost as if she, as an ally, is learning about white privilege — or, rather, human privilege.
Looking at a post-9/11 landscape
If you asked me last season which show was the most political, I would have said Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The “Agents of Hydra” arc was the most political it had been in a long time and it had several well-pointed jabs at Trump and the GOP. But it was only a single arc. Other shows, like Supergirl, took jabs, but the shows themselves tended to focus more on soap opera stylings than look at actual political underpinnings of the world.
While I have no doubt The Gifted will get into some soap opera stories (Burn Notice certainly did), it also appears to be taking a good long look at a world where a tragedy occurred and the government cracked down immediately afterward. The first episode mentioned the “expanded PATRIOT Act,” while the second episode mentioned the “July 15th incident,” a phrase suspiciously similar to September 11th. (This almost unconsciously separates it from the MCU, where the Battle of New York is referred to as “the Incident,” separating what happened from any official date.) This means The Gifted will have a lot more opportunities to make commentary about our own world by comparing it to the world of the show.
And in some ways, the dystopia of The Gifted is a little bit worse than the one Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had in the Framework. After all, that fascist world was because of Hydra, literal Nazis. The Gifted shows us that even regular people, when faced with tragedy, can turn on those who are blamed and treat them as subhuman.