Marvel Controversy: Israeli Heroine Sabra Outrages Arab World
i24 News – Marvel has responded to criticism over an Israeli character to be played by an Israeli actress in the US film studio’s next blockbuster “Captain America: New World Order.”
The move to cast Shira Haas for the role of superheroine Sabra angered pro-Palestinian organizations, prompting Marvel to announce that it would take “a new approach” to the character.
“While our characters 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,” the studio told Hollywood trade magazine Variety.
Many have indeed claimed to have been shocked to see a “Zionist” character joining the Marvel Universe.
First appearing in “The Incredible Hulk” comics in 1981, Sabra, whose real identity is Ruth Bat-Seraph, is a mutant with superpowers working for Israel’s national intelligence agency, the Mossad, who fights in a white and blue suit with a Star of David on her chest.
Trained in a kibbutz, Sabra is immune to bullets, can lift tanks and run past cars. She has access to Mossad files and knows the secret identities and personal histories of a number of superheroes. Above all, she fiercely defends the rights of Jews and mutants.
The screenwriters of the time concocted for her a tragic fate: her son, Jacob, was killed by Palestinian terrorists who attacked a school bus full of Israeli children. The government insisted that she not intervene in the investigation, but Sabra went to Bethlehem anyway, where she arrested the perpetrators of the attack.
Another Israeli star, Gal Gadot, has been under fire recently with the boycott of her “Wonder Woman” films in certain Arab countries.
The announcement of Sabra’s presence in the next “Captain America,” slated for release in 2024, sparked outcry from those who say they fear such a character could spread offensive stereotypes about Arabs and participates in the “dehumanization” of Palestinians in the cinema.
Critics claim that many of the Arab characters she interacted with in the comic are portrayed as misogynistic, antisemitic and violent. The main question is whether the portrayals of Arabs will be the same in the film.
The Institute for Middle East Understanding, a pro-Palestinian NGO, denounced Sabra’s presence in the film, saying that “by glorifying the Israeli military and police, Marvel is encouraging Israel’s violence against Palestinians and allows the continued oppression of millions of Palestinians living under Israel’s authoritarian military regime.”
Another source of tension lies in the name “Sabra,” which in Hebrew designates a “Jewish citizen born in Israel.” This name is, however, considered as a provocation by the defenders of the Palestinian cause, who associate it with the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, two districts of Beirut, perpetrated by Christian militias, then supported by Israel, during the war in Lebanon.
However, the announcement about the Israeli superheroine took place a week before the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. It was enough for calls for a boycott of the film to burst out on social networks.
Marvel tried to calm things down, telling CNN, “Characters from the Marvel Universe are always freshly reimagined to fit today’s cinema and audiences.”
On the Israeli side, the presence of a superheroine member of the Mossad is seen as a victory in terms of public relations for the agency.
Avner Avraham, a former intelligence officer and founder of the Spy Legends agency, which advises on films and TV shows featuring Israeli spies, told US media that this new portrayal of Sabra will empower the younger generation to get to know the Mossad better.
“It’s the ‘TikTok’ way, the ‘cartoon’ way of talking to the new generation. They’ll learn the word ‘Mossad,'” he said. According to him, such exposure can even help the Israeli secret service to recruit sources in other countries.
However, the “progressive” thinking in the Marvel galaxy raises concerns about how the hero will be treated.
Israeli cartoonist Uri Fink, who created a character called Sabraman in 1978, told Channel 12 that he’s not sure Marvel’s portrayal of Sabra “is positive in the ‘woke times’ we’re going through right now.”
“Those who work at Marvel today are all kinds of progressives. I have nothing against them, but we won’t have the most accurate portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.
“I suggest that Shira (Haas) read the script carefully, and make sure that the character is not portrayed too problematically,” Fink added.
With her five feet, frail figure and blond, straight hair, the Israeli actress is physically far from Sabra who, in the comic, has thick black curls and is 5.9 feet tall.
But that did not put off Marvel, which was seduced by the undeniable talent of the actress, revealed in the Israeli drama “Shtisel” and the Netflix mini-series “Unorthodox.”
By accepting the role of Sabra, Haas got a unique opportunity to achieve international star status, and follow in the footsteps of her compatriot Gal Gadot.