The Ultimate Immigrant Story: Zack Snyder’s Superman

Superheroes have always represented the best of humanity, compassion, selflessness, courage, determination and leadership. Superheroes resonate with human society because they represent the ideals we can all strive towards. As a Muslim American, coming from a family of immigrants, Superman resonated with me most of all. Furthermore, one iteration of the character that truly captures the immigrant experience is Zack Snyder’s Superman. Zack’s Snyder Superman is the ultimate immigrant story brought to life.

To understand Superman and the ultimate immigrant story, we must first look at the impact of superheroes on our culture. Superheroes have become a multi-billion-dollar industry, Marvel and DC have brought their heroes to screen in beautiful and inspiring ways. Both brands amaze us as well as make us think about society at large. In 2017, superheroes not only provide entertainment for all ages, they also provide a much-needed escape. Marvel and their MCU juggernaut thrive in a fun, colorful experience leaving you feeling happier. While this is crucial to experience in our current flawed, divided, and broken society, it isn’t all that we need. Sometimes, we need to see our greatest heroes, these mythological figures, go through what many of us feel in reality. In this area, DC & their DC films excel.

The Ultimate Immigrant Story: Zack Snyder’s Superman
Zack Snyder’s Superman in BvS

Today’s American Society: Why We Need Heroes

Following an election that further divided this country and many minorities feel vitriol, America is at a crossroads. We have seen Charlottesville, VA up in flames as bigoted men march, torches in hand, to instill fear in minorities. They spew hateful rhetoric against black Americans, Jews, Hispanics and Muslims.

To capture the experience of the immigrant struggle in a macro sense is impossible. On a micro level, I feel superheroes can be that bridge to understand this picture. We need a mirror looking into ourselves more than we need an escape to block that image out. In this area, Zack Snyder has shown to be truly masterful. Zack Snyder gave me, a Muslim American, a Superman that truly reflects today’s immigrant struggle.

My love for Superman came before Snyder’s Man of Steel. In fact, Superman was my role model since I was a little kid. Throughout my 23 years, I’ve read countless Superman comics across all eras. As a kid, the best stories were always the fun and colorful action-packed ones. As I’ve matured, the Superman stories I’ve come to cherish most are the ones that speak to society. The stories where Superman tackles a problem rooted in humanity, like Dini’s Peace of Earth or Action Comics #900. Stories that challenge issues, those are the ones that stood with me. In terms of Superman films, we did not get that socially relevant Superman until 2013’s Man of Steel.

Man of Steel-The Immigrant’s Struggle of Identity

Zack Snyder reintroduced Superman into a more realistic world and society that has both light and darkness. Superman’s story is one of the immigrants. The story of discovering and finding himself in a world that rejects him. That journey to self-discovery is something many immigrants face in this country. Fear of the unknown and xenophobia exist in a world where Superman, an alien trying to balance two distinct cultures, must reveal himself.

This humanity, much like our own, is not happily ready for an “alien” to be among them. To me,Man of Steel has Superman that represents the immigrant experience in America. Emotionally, and psychologically, Kal-El goes through many of the trials that a Muslim immigrant would face in a post 9/11 society.

Superman Balancing Two Cultures and Identities

Superman’s story is simple and well known. A child sent to another world, his parents sacrificing themselves to give him a chance to survive. Sound familiar? It should. Countless immigrant parents are forced to sacrifice and struggle in order to provide their children a chance to survive. What Man of Steel did was to introduce Kal-El into a flawed society, our society. Like many immigrants, all Superman wants to do is the right thing while finding his balance between two worlds. For immigrants, that might mean struggling to balance multiple cultures, languages, or lives.

For Superman, it was balancing unlimited power, discovering his birth culture and trying to find his place in humanity. Man of Steel is criticized for having Superman struggle. What many don’t understand is Zack Snyder only pointed a mirror towards our society. The ultimate immigrant story has two parts and Man of Steel represents the first. Man of Steel is about an immigrant finding himself through life becoming the bridge between two people.

Batman v Superman-The Muslim American Experience

Moving to an experience that rings closer to home is the American Muslim experience. I’m Muslim and the current climate under the Trump Administration has emboldened bigots to spread hate and vitriol. We recently felt the Syrian refugee debate make waves across the country, many being forced to take a side. Do you care about the safety of the country? Because of this, both politicians and media use fear mongering to scare the American people of a looming threat. Even one “bad refugee” can cause huge destruction for our country. Letting hate, fear, mistrust, and xenophobia dictate our society has only escalated the islamophobia Muslim Americans face every day. This is where Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman shines above all.

In my opinion, Batman v Superman carries the strongest level of social commentary we’ve seen in a comic book film. The immigrant struggle is displayed through setting these heroes in this Post-9/11 society. Furthermore, it is amplified by the most “American” hero of all, Superman. Man of Steel explored the start of Superman’s Ultimate Immigrant story, showing him as an outcast of both two cultures. Batman v Superman looks at the socio-political aspect of this experience. Media xenophobia and paranoia loom as Superman is under constant scrutiny by the people, the media and the government.

How Batman v Superman Connects to The Real World

Once again taking the notion of being scared of your “alien” neighbor plays. The world looks at Superman as a stranger and the threat, much like how Muslims, African Americans and Latinos feel. What Zack Snyder effectively holds two mirrors. One, to mirror the many minorities, immigrants and Muslims through Superman. And the other at the very bigots themselves through Batman. The ultimate immigrant story is about seeing our most American hero go through that same struggle.

Zack Snyder’s Batman: Fall From Grace & Redemption

In many ways, Batman mirrors the fear you see from the other side of this debate. In Snyder’s Batman v Superman, you see Bruce Wayne’s regression and literal fall from grace as he gives himself up to the hate and xenophobia many Americans willingly and unwillingly give in to. This was a bold move by Snyder as he took arguable the most popular and marketable Superhero in our society with Batman and flipped him on his head. What this leads to is seeing a mirror of what hatred, xenophobia, paranoia has done to the best of us.

To understand why the ultimate immigrant story and Superman, you must understand Bruce Wayne’s role in it. Batman’s fears of Superman are off from what many Americans feel about immigrants and you see first-hand what Zack Snyder regressed Batman into, someone who dictates every action through fear and mistrust. The key quote to capture this sentiment; “He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even one percent chance he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty…and we have to destroy him.” Bruce’s quote here closely mirrors the sentiment many Americans, media members politicians adopted to validate their hate for another human being. Bruce’s 1% about Superman can be paralleled with a bigot’s thoughts on immigration, their views on refugees and Muslims as a whole.

The Lesson of Zack Snyder’s DCEU

Zack Snyder used Bruce as a mirror to show our society what we have become. In today’s climate of neo-Nazi and KKK sympathizers marching with torches in their hands against immigration, this proverbial mirror only reflects the ugly truth clearer. Zack couldn’t leave Bruce in this state because the theme of Batman v Superman is to overcome the darkness inside of you and find the hope you can bring to others. He gave Batman a path to redemption. A path many of us can follow to be better people. In Batman, you see the flip side of Superman’s ultimate immigrant story, the one who opposes him.

The Martha Moment: Building a Bridge between Two People

When Bruce opened his eyes and got to see Superman past his black and white mentality, he found change. When he found out that this man, despite being an alien, is no different than him, he realizes how demented his mentality was. The Martha scene of Batman v Superman is a figurative and metaphorical moment. The idea of having the same mother’s name doesn’t even scratch the surface. The scene represented Bruce realizing he has become exactly what he painted Superman to be.

At the end of the day, Clark and Bruce wanted the same thing, to protect their mothers from death. A task that young, helpless Bruce could not accomplish and a task Superman was moments away from failing if Batman killed him. Imagine if we applied this lesson to our society. Here we have the ultimate immigrant, despite having all power, is still subject and victim to the same hatred, xenophobia, fear that many Muslim Americans face every day.

The Key Message of Man of Steel & Batman v Superman

On the other side, we have a hero that has given into his fears and hatred and misunderstanding to become a shell of himself, much like many Americans have become giving into the rhetoric media and politicians spew. The way they reconciled their differences is realizing how similar they both are. How “human” they are. If we took the time to reach across the race lines, the religious lines, we wouldn’t have the same level of fear we do now. What Zack Snyder tells us is to look at our neighboring cultures, religions and races and find that deep down we all want the same things in life. There is a true beauty in Zack Snyder’s message in Batman v Superman.

The Ultimate Immigrant Story: Zack Snyder’s Superman

As a Muslim, myself, I can tell you first hand that Superman’s experience in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman deeply resonated with me. Today’s socio-political climate is difficult for many groups. Many, including African Americans, Hispanics and Muslims feel the hatred that this country can produce. As a result, the current political climate and the horrors occurring both domestic and internationally make our experiences that much more powerful. Superheroes have always been there to tackle these problems in the comic books. Because of this, the power of Zack’s Superman representing the ultimate immigrant story holds that much more weight.

Superman arrived in 1938, as a result of war time, right when the American public needed him. Wonder Woman became a symbol for Women’s rights. Professor X and the X-Men gave a parallel to heavily divided Civil Rights movement. Multiple heroes from all races, orientations and religions need to represented. While it is always a needed reprieve to escape into a Marvel movie where the looming threats of our real society don’t interfere with the pure joy and happiness of their film experiences, we also need films that use these heroes to give us a direct mirror into our society. For that, we all need to give an applause to what Zack Snyder has been able to accomplish with Superman’s ultimate immigrant story.

The Impact of Superman on American Culture

We don’t always want to see our heroes fall from grace to show us the ugliness of our society, but the reward when they find the better angels of their nature is that much better. As a lifelong Superman fan, I’ve read, watched and experienced countless stories and epic moments from the character. Superman speaks very much to who I am and how I’ve matured. What Zack Snyder provided to a lifelong fan who also happens to be a Muslim American in this era is unmeasurable.

I have a Superman on screen that has suffered many of the things I’ve suffered and climb through many of the trials and tribulations I see immigrants and fellow Muslims struggle through. Zack Snyder’s Superman represents the ultimate immigrant story and his social, political and cultural significance will hopefully be appreciated over time.

For more articles from Sheraz Farooqi, check out his other works here. The article was originally posted on Geeks of Color.

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