Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers of the FX show Legion.
By A’isha Saleh
I am one of Marvel’s biggest fans. Both in film and television, I think they are going above and beyond to achieve excellence in their craft.
I especially believed this when I watched the FX show Legion, Marvel’s X-Men spinoff following the story of David Haller a.k.a. Legion, the mutant son of Professor X. I thought, and still think, that this is one of Marvel’s greatest productions. The extremely skilled editing, the style of the production, the incredible acting, and the beautifully symbolic lighting that adds to the chaotic style of the show all combine to produce an incredible experience for me as an audience member.
These were my thoughts from the first second of episode one all the way up until the name of the main villain is revealed near the end of the series, a one Amahl Farouk. As soon as this happened, I saw the entire season in a completely different light, the blatant racism and Islamophobia rising to the surface to display itself loud and clear.
If you have watched Legion, you know that the villain terrorizing David’s character from the very beginning is no ordinary villain. Usually in the X-men/Mutant series, the villain is very clearly stated and has a clear purpose. Magneto wants to save the mutants from a new Holocaust, or Bolivar Trask wants to give humans the weapons to defend themselves against powerful mutants.
But Amahl Farouk is not even human. Farouk doesn’t even have his own body. He is a parasite made of pure psychic energy feeding on the hatred of humanity and possessing human bodies in order to have form. According to the X-men universe, Amahl Farouk is the “spawn of Mankind’s first nightmare” (All New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #9).
That’s right. You heard me. Marvel had the genius idea to give a terrorizing parasitic entity that possesses innocent humans and is the spawn of the very first nightmare an Arab name.
The wild thing is that it seems the writers who developed this villain didn’t even know what they were naming it because the name Amahl translates to “hope” and Farouk means “The one who distinguishes between right and wrong.”
Just to clarify, the name of the villain in Legion is “Hope, the one who distinguishes between right and wrong, the Shadow King.” Either the writers of the story were really keen on villainizing beautiful Arabic names, or they sat around a desk and brainstormed about exactly which Arabic name sounded the most terrifying and villainous, translations be damned.
I was so shocked that I felt the need to do a little more research, because I thought there is no way this is real. What I discovered in my findings was even more interesting. In the show, even though Farouk’s battle is with Professor X, he decides to possess and terrorize David from the time he was a baby, making it clear that Farouk has no moral boundaries—he doesn’t care if it’s a child he’s hurting. In the original comics, Amahl Farouk doesn’t possess Legion until he becomes an adult. Their paths don’t even cross because for the most part Professor X is Farouk’s main opponent.
The reason this detail is important is because it brings to light the length that the show’s writers went to make Amahl Farouk all the more inhumane and cruel even beyond the comic book portrayal (which is in itself still very disturbing).
But it’s Farouk’s motive that is most disappointing. Usually, the motive for a villain is very clarifying and sometimes even humanizing. Magneto wants to save the mutants from being persecuted because he witnessed his parents die in the Holocaust. Helmut Zemo wants the Avengers to destroy themselves because he seeks revenge for his family who died because of them. Amahl Farouk terrorizes and possesses the mind of a child all the way through adulthood and does terrible things to people using his body… just because he was in a fight with David’s dad.
A well rounded dynamic villain is crucial to creating an interesting story since the entire point of the hero’s journey is to overcome all obstacles the villain throws at them. In Marvel’s TV show DareDevil Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen, is such an incredible character to watch develop because the writers reveal to us that he is a man who raised himself out of poverty, who had an abusive childhood, who killed his father because he wanted to protect his mother, who is faithful and truly loves the one woman in his life, and in a twisted way his motive is ultimately to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place. He has the same exact motive as DareDevil, he’s merely going about it differently.
So when I watch these shows in comparison and see how the writers put all their effort into developing the character of this powerful white man, and then see how no such effort is being made for the Arab villain, all of a sudden it becomes clear that humanizing the brown villain is just not within their interests, regardless of how deeply it affects the quality of the show.
Look, I’m used to the Arab being the villain. In a post-911 society—and, let’s be honest, even before then—there is a very clear stereotyping and demonizing of the Middle Eastern man because people are comfortable with that portrayal. It’s been normalized, it’s been discussed, and at least it’s been called out.
But the new level of evil and inhuman that Legion has taken the ‘Arab villain’ has not been called out. It’s been ignored or even accepted for just how disgusting it really is.
We are in a changing world; a world where people feel empowered to speak out against the sexual predators that bully their way through the industry (#MeToo). A world where a first time Black director gains success and appraisal for his portrayal of high white society and their violent obsession with achieving Black excellence (Get Out). A world where the political racists and pedophiles come into the light so that the public can see who they truly are.
But if this world is truly committed to a change that weeds out the systemic evil and encourages the marginalized to speak up, then we need to demand it from every corner of our society, including the producers that are providing us with our entertainment. We should not accept that race, and color, and culture be used to demonize the misunderstood and marginalize those who have already been silenced. If these producers and writers can’t treat our languages with respect and have no intention of providing positive representation for people of color, then we should simply refuse to eat up the bullshit that they are trying to force-feed us.
A’isha Saleh is a mixed race Muslim-American woman who was born and raised in Southern California. She has a B.A. in Film and Digital Production from UC Riverside and aspires to be a filmmaker/screenwriter in order to provide POC with more opportunities to portray diverse and complex characters on screen.