In their haste to promote the release of X-Men Apocalypse, Fox might have overlooked which segments of the film they wanted to advertise and how the audience might respond to them. Controversy over the nature of one of the marketing billboard ads, in which we see Apocalypse (played by Oscar Isaac) trying to strangle Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) with the tagline “Only the strong will survive,” has led to Fox issuing a formal apology to fans and protesters alike. However, not only has this choice been seen as poor advertising, using this one shot out of nearly two and a half hours of footage to draw in viewers, but it has also raised a larger conversation about the limited representation of women in action movies.
In their apology, a spokesperson at Fox replied, “In our enthusiasm to show the villainy of the character Apocalypse we didn’t immediately recognize the upsetting connotation of this image in print form. Once we realized how insensitive it was, we quickly took steps to remove those materials. We apologize for our actions and would never condone violence against women.”
While I agree that this was undoubtedly the wrong type of photo to draw in viewers, I’m not entirely sure if it advocates a repression of female characters in superhero movies, or even cinema in general. The fact of the matter is that Apocalypse is the villain of the story, with a plan to ensure Mutant supremacy under his control, meaning that he wishes to destroy anyone who will stand in his way, humans and mutants alike. In other words, his character really doesn’t discriminate against who he wants to kill. So on one side, this image is him attacking one of the lead characters shows his power as the antagonist and threat that he poses. On the other hand, it still is a female character getting held in a strangling position, so it’s definitely understandable to see why people would take offense, feeling that they are showing an act of violence in a movie and then telling moviegoers to go see that movie. So which side of this argument is in the right?
I mean, would the controversy towards this image be as intense if they had a white guy like Quicksilver or Cyclops or (in this case blue guy) Beast? Maybe, maybe not, but as much as we all push to show characters of race, gender and sexuality in an equal light, we still need to be careful in how they are depicted. I understand where someone like Rose McGowan is coming from, taking offense at 20th Century Fox for thinking that “casual violence against women is the way to market a film.” It’s definitely true: showing characters being thrown in life-or-death situation by the villains is something that belongs in the final clips of a trailer, not a billboard. That being said, the way everyone has attacked this ad you would think Fox was behind the idea of pissing off the fanbases from the start. This really feels like an act made out of naivety rather than a desire to advocate violence, one that should not be ignored or critiqued but still doesn’t feel like an enormous roadblock in female representation within the medium. Considering how Fox has acknowledged the mistake that they made in terms of advertising the movie, we are seeing that they have taken this criticism to heart. Hopefully this doesn’t affect anyone who was eager to see the movie, because it is still worth a watch. Don’t worry, Mystique is pretty damn badass.