‘Midnight’s Children’ and New Superhero Stories

We’ve finally got the first trailer for the adaptation of Midnight’s Children, long considered unfilmable, and at a first glimpse, it looks like the project will put paid to that idea.

One thing I can’t tell from this trailer is whether this adaptation is preserving the magical elements of Midnight’s Children, or jettisoning the idea that the children born in the first hour of India’s independence came into the world with superpowers. I’d regret the downgrading of Rushdie’s characters, some of the most interesting superheroes of color ever written, into average men and women, though I can see that being the easiest way to make the book manageable. Special effects are expensive and can be easy to do extremely badly.

But while I’ll reserve judgement on that element of Midnight’s Children, I’m excited to see the movie as a whole. It’s such a relief to see another country’s history treated as if it’s worthy of epic treatment, rather than as a backdrop for Western character’s adventures, as India was in The Avengers. A period like the Indian Emergency, in which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi postponed elections, preemptively arrested dissidents, and issued decrees that let her bypass the democratic process, is important to see on screen not just because it’ll introduce new audiences to critically important parts of India’s past, but because it introduces new narrative arcs and character types into the storytelling ecosystem. And as I wrote back when news of the project broke last year, Midnight’s Children should push American superhero stories to step up their game: it has the guts to be an alternate history of India, rather than a fantasy that skates lightly over the issues it alludes to but isn’t quite willing to engage with.