The Gifted, like its source material, is an allegorical story. Since it debuted in 2018, the Fox X-Men drama has told stories that engage with real-world issues like racism and bigotry, health care, and more; however, according to the show’s creator and cast, sometimes they surprise themselves with how timely their stories are.
On Friday, creator Matt Nix and stars Amy Acker, Emma Dumont, and Skyler Samuels gathered together for a panel about the show at SCAD aTVfest in Atlanta. During the event, which was moderated by The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern, Nix addressed many topics, including how Fox TV show host Sean Hannity inspired one of season 2’s current villains, Peter Gallagher’s Benedict Ryan, an anti-mutant TV personality working with the extremist group the Purifiers.
“It was really shorthand,” said Nix. “I have to say: The people at Fox, they were like, ‘Who’s the villain this year?’ I was like, ‘Sean Hannity’ And they were like, ‘Sold. Done.’”
He added, “We wanted to do something that was recognizably of our world, and a commentator who wields outsized political influence was an interesting thing that really hasn’t happened before in the same way. So, [Hannity] was an interesting model.”
While Nix may have used the conservative anchor as a quick way to describe the character of Benedict, he said that the show isn’t trying to depict the mutant issue as a “right-wing thing versus a left wing thing.” In other words, on The Gifted, those who fall on the right side of the spectrum aren’t necessarily anti-mutant, and those on the left aren’t automatically pro-mutant.
“One of the things we’ve worked on on the show is it’s not like things sort of fall in this universe into a clear left-right divide in the show,” he said. “It was referenced at the end of last season the idea that some gun rights advocates are very pro-mutant because they regard mutant powers as sort of akin to gun rights. Similarly, one of the things we talked about is the idea that some gay rights supporters don’t appreciate being lumped in with mutants because as far as they’re concerned, they shouldn’t be lumped in with people who are potentially dangerous. We didn’t want to have on the show to say that’s really a right-wing thing versus a left wing thing.”
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Later on in the panel, Nix and the cast revealed that there have been times when the show has accidentally hit too close to home when it comes to grappling with real-world issues. For example, season 1 of The Gifted almost had an episode that was about mutant children being separated from their parents and placed in cages before the border crisis and the administration’s family separation policy started making headlines in the news, but it was shot down by the powers that be because at the time it seemed too far fetched.
“We had an episode that we wrote — it got to the outline stage — and in it the children of mutants had been forcibly removed from their parents, and they go to a facility and the kids, they’re talking to the person who runs the facility, who is explaining that yeah, we don’t really have the facilities for them and that’s why they’re over there in those cages,” Nix explained. “It all happened before anything happened in the news. The executives were like, ‘Yeah, this is a little extreme. I don’t think anybody’s going to take children from parents and put them in cages. So, I don’t think we could do this storyline. And then literally like a month later, they were like kids in cages in America. To the execs’ credit, they called us up and were like, ‘We’re really sorry. Sorry about your show and sorry about the human tragedy that’s going on in our border.’ It was crazy. We were just like, ‘Wow, we just accidentally wrote this thing that happened. It’s so weird.’”
Even without that episode, though, the series’ exploration of the problem of alterity still hits home for the cast. “It’s hardly an allegory these days,” said Samuels, who plays the Frost triplets. “If you turn off The Gifted and watch the news, sometimes the difference between the story is not all that great. That is challenging because I wish the things that we portrayed on the show were not actual battles people were going up against in real life, but that is a part of our landscape right now. I think the coolest thing about The Gifted is that it has this popcorn element. It’s big and it’s got some camp and it’s got some action, but all of the characters and storylines are grounded in real social issues. And I think the hope is that people can walk away from watching the show having, yes, enjoyed an hour of entertainment, but also maybe thinking a little more insightfully or compassionately about how we treat others and the fear of people we don’t understand or who are not like us and understanding that there is room for everybody.”
The Gifted airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.