MLK and Malcolm X: The Civil Rights Movement and the X-Men Origins


The American Civil Rights movement inspired many people, including Marvel Comic’s mastermind writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They have created some of the most powerful superheroes in the comic universe but did you know some of these characters were influenced by actual real life heroes in history? Lee and Kirby used the iconic civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as the inspiration behind the characters Charles Xavier aka Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto, the creators of the X-Men. Rather than fighting aliens and criminals, they fought against the oppression mutants faced on a daily basis in society, albeit by different methods. Much like MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, Professor X chose a non-violent approach and Magneto took more of a defensive stance against violent oppression and prejudice.


It’s presumed in comic book lore that Magneto is a villain but Stan Lee had a different perspective when he created the character. Stan Lee says about the metal warping mutant, “I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

Even in the film adaptations of the X-Men series, Michael Fassbender who plays the role of Magneto, admits the iconic figures were inspiration for their on-screen portrayals.
“It came up early on in the rehearsal period and that was the path we took”, says Michael Fassbender, “These two brilliant minds coming together and their views aren’t that different on some key things. As you watch them you know that if their understanding, ability and intelligence could somehow come together it would be really special. But the split is what makes them even more interesting and tragic.” The Hero Complex, LA Times

xmen civil rights dave wachter



Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

Lesson Plan

Create a fictional comic book character loosely based on a figure in history, past or present. Your character should inherit key traits from the historical figure such as core values and cultural upbringing. Your character's special abilities, whether superhuman or not, should have something to do with the exceptional skills your historical figure possessed.

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Lesson tags: Civics, Civil Rights, Creative Writing, Eighth, English, Featured, Film, History, Marvel, Ninth, Pop Culture, Social Studies, Tenth, X-Men

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The NuSkool Team The NuSkool editing team is made up of highly qualified educators, researchers and pop culture experts. The team works collaboratively to critically deconstruct pop culture and find the teachable moments in all forms of media and entertainment.