“First Class” is set in 1962. That was the year South Carolina marked the Civil War centennial by returning the Confederate Flag to the State Capitol; the year the University of Mississippi greeted its first black student, James Meredith, with a lethal race riot; the year George Wallace was elected governor of Alabama.
That was the year a small crowd of Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and commemorated the 100th birthday of the Emancipation Proclamation. Only a single African-American was asked to speak (Thurgood Marshall, added under threat of boycott). In “First Class,” 1962 finds our twin protagonists, Magneto and Professor X, also rallying before the Lincoln Memorial, not for protest or commemoration, but for a game of chess. “First Class” is not blind to societal evils, so much as it works to hold evil at an ocean’s length. The film is rooted in its opposition to the comfortably foreign abomination of Nazism.
This is all about knowing your audience.
I am reminded of the House Republicans, opening the 112th Congress by reciting the Constitution, minus the slavery parts. I am reminded of the English professor last year who, responding to Huckleberry Finn’s widespread banishment from public schools, was compelled to offer the Mark Twain classic, minus the nigger parts. I think of the Pentagon official, who this year justified the war in Afghanistan to soldiers by invoking the words of Dr. King, minus the “ultimate weakness of violence” parts. I am reminded of whole swaths of this country where historical fiction compels Americans to claim the Civil War was about states’ rights, minus the “right to own people” part.
This is all about a convenient suspension of disbelief.
- From The New York Times, June 8
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