Marvel's Introduction Of Israeli Superhero With Complicated Backstory Sparks Controversy
A recent convention held by Disney saw a slew of new projects being announced for the future of the studio, and boy was it plentiful
Referred to as the D23 Expo for 2022, the event was held at the Anaheim Convention Centre in California. The event, which follows a similar structure to the annual international comic book fest, Comic-Con, saw the House of Mouse reveal brand new trailers, castings, and upcoming Disney projects.
Among them were a slew of Marvel features that are set to premiere over the course of the next few years, which include (but are not limited to) Secret Invasion (2022), Warewolf by Night (2022), and Fantastic Four (2024).
One of the films that garnered plenty of press at the convention was the unveiling of Captain America: New World Order (2024), which sees Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson take up the suit of red, white, and blue, as the first African-American character to play the Cap himself.
Other familiar faces set to star alongside Mackie include Carl Lumbly, Danny Ramirez, and Tim Blake, who will be reprising his role of the supervillain and antagonist, The Leader, from Universal Pictures The Incredible Hulk (2008).
However, the announcement of one character in the film has caused quite a stir over the past few weeks
Making her debut as a heavy hitting crusader comes the introduction of Sabra, whose real name in the comics is Ruth Bat Seraph.
Set to play the already controversial role of Sabra is Israeli actress Shira Haas, who's most known for her work in the 2020 Netflix mini-series, Unorthodox.
Originally introduced in the 1980s Incredible Hulk comics, Sabra's appearance and backstory has been a tad bit complicated
A Jewish heroine and former Mossad agent, the comic book depiction of Sabra describes her as someone who has dedicated her life to strengthening Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel.
Donning a costume that symbolises the national colours of Israel, Sabra wears a white bodysuit with two blue bands circling her waist, gloves, and boots. With a white headband on her head that bears the blue Star of David in the centre, she also possesses a larger version of the symbol on her chest, as a clasp for her blue, quilled cloak.
Some of Sabra's mutant powers include enhanced physical abilities in strength, speed, agility, and endurance, while also being able to withstand hard impacts of high caliber rifle fire.
Her initial appearance in issue #256 of The Incredible Hulk began in a less than satisfactory manner than other Marvel superheroes. Battling the mighty Bruce Banner in his green form, the story depicts how she believed that he was a terrorist trying to kill her.
The corpse of a young Palestinian boy is also outlined in the issue (though he is not referred to as such), with the Hulk directly addressing the matter at one point. "Boy died because boy's people and yours both want to own land! Boy died because you wouldn't share!" was illustrated in the pages of the 1980 strip.
Many have even gone on to condemn the script for painting Arabs and Muslims as violent terrorists, extremists, and even war criminals.
A depiction of this scene was used as inspiration, and used as the cover of the issue itself.
Adding to the controversy was the name of the superhero herself. Though a nickname for a Jewish person born in Israel, it also stems from the Hebrew term for 'fruit' or 'prickly pear'. However, the name 'Sabra' is also spelled the same way as one of two Palestinian communities in Lebanon, where a massacre claimed the lives of over 1,000 individuals in 1982. It is known today as the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
While the character was created before the events of the attack and has no relation to it, the announcement of the character's inclusion just weeks before the massacre's 40th anniversary touched a raw nerve in Muslims all over the world, leading many to accuse Marvel of ethnic insensitivities.
From academicians to authors and even everyday folk, many people around the world chimed in on Marvel's decision to bring Sabra into the MCU
In a comment to CNN, Palestinian-American writer and analyst Yousef Munayyer called the characterisation of Sabra insensitive and disgraceful.
On the other side of the fence, Israeli author, novelist, and scriptwriter Etgar Keret, also mentioned that Sabra was created in a different era that was simple and clear. "It was created with a totally different reality and state of mind. And now... it's tough to keep this kind of icon of simplicity."
Many members of the general public, including some Malaysians, took to social media and expressed their feelings about Sabra being the next superhero to be added to the MCU.
Nonetheless, Marvel has since addressed the controversy, stating that they plan to take a new approach when dissecting Sabra altogether
In a statement to US entertainment magazine Variety, Marvel Studios mentioned, "While our character and stories are inspired by the comics, they are always freshly imagined for the screen and today's audience, and the filmmakers, are taking a new approach with the character Sabra, who was first introduced in the comics over 40 years ago."
A similar sentiment was also conveyed to CNN.
Though it remains to be seen, only time will tell as to how Sabra will shape out once she officially enters the MCU
The actress who plays Ms Marvel also revealed that the studio throws out fake rumours to deflect from spoilers getting out:
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