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X-Men '97's Storm actress remembers the racist bullying that inspired her character

Storm actor Alison Sealy-Smith says she shares her character’s history of standing up to bigots

X-Men '97
Image credit: Marvel Studios

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It is no secret that X-Men has long been a franchise that resonates with minorities and other marginalized readers, a factor in the franchise’s appeal that dates at least as far back as the comic book’s relaunch in the ‘70s, if not before. And for at least one actor on the iconic ‘90s X-Men: The Animated Series (and the new X-Men '97 now on Disney+ ), that capacity for identification went beyond the merely abstract. As Alison Sealy-Smith, the voice actor who plays the role of Storm on the franchise, recently remembered, her identification with the character came from memories of bullying and exclusion while growing up Black in '60s Canada.

“I come from an island [Barbados] that’s 95% Black population,” Sealy-Smith told a fan who asked her experiences with bullying and how it affected her characterization of Storm during the C2E2 2023 X-Men: The Animated Series reunion panel. “And I went to school in Sackville, New Brunswick, which is a tiny little town in the province of New Brunswick. So I come from this space which is pretty empowered – this is who I am, most of the people who are around look like me – and then I get into this space when I’m 18 years old, and people asked me where my grass skirt and my spear were. They asked me if my blood was the same color as theirs. They asked why the palms of my hands weren’t brown, too. They wanted to know if I lived in the tops of trees. So, yeah, I got a little crash course in how people treat difference, and I am sure that, yes, I would have channeled some of that into Storm.”

Born in Barbados in 1959, Sealy-Smith moved to Canada just as the tumultuous period of Civil Rights was taking hold both north and south of the Canada-US border. An accomplished actor on both stage and screen, Sealy-Smith was actually the third performer to land the role of the X-Men’s weather-controlling co-leader on the '90s cartoon. As producer Eric Lewald revealed in his book Previously On X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series, the show had almost finished production on its first season when producers realized that the role of Storm ought, by all rights, to be played by a Black actor. Consequently, American voice actor Iona Morris was hastily brought in to re-record all of Storm’s dialogue for the season. But in need of a Canadian actor to take on the role for the long haul, the show then hired Sealy-Smith to record Storm’s dialogue once more, and to take over the character for future seasons.

Like Sealy-Smith, other cast members at the C2E2 panel recalled drawing from memories of exclusion when defining their roles, albeit in less socially significant ways. Rogue actor Lenore Zann told audience members that it was her funny voice (a result of having immigrated from Australia at age 11) that resulted in teasing and bullying by classmates, while the voice of Beast, George Buza, said he found the voice of the furred mutants in his experiences as a quintessential outsider.

“I identified with Beast because I went through a lot of stuff as a kid growing up in the ‘50’s, being bullied, and having a lot of trouble in school and being a nerd,” Buza recalled. “I could identify with these aspects of what it was like to be a mutant, and to be different, and to be ostracized from the mainstream of society.”

All of the cast members were emphatic that the ability of the X-Men to provide figures of identification to outsiders of all stripes was the key to its success, and a theme that the show’s writers, to their credit, never shied away from.

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