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Marvel’s Sabra: Newest MCU Superhero Casting Engulfed In Controversy

Marvel Sabra MCU
By Benny Stein

The MCU is no stranger to political messaging, with projects like Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and the recently re-logoed Captain America: New World Order all serving as prime examples. This willingness to engage with social issues of the day has left the company open to criticism in the past, especially from right-wing groups aggrieved by the efforts toward representation and open dialogue.

However, the MCU has also shied away from certain political controversies. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier supposedly had a certain storyline cut for its similarity to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the heavy reshoots on Secret Invasion are rumored to be related to the removal of certain Russian elements in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine.

Even so, Marvel seems intent on continuing its slightly political bent, though one recent incident has left some fans confused, even reeling.

How Do Fans Feel About Captain America 4’s Sabra?

The Direct Image
Shira Haas

During this weekend's D23 Expo, Disney announced that Israeli actress Shira Haas would be joining the MCU as Sabra in Captain America: New World Order. Beyond her status as a Mutant, the character is significant for her close ties with the Israeli government, actually working for the Mossad in the comics.

Fans were quick to note the controversial nature of the character's inclusion, with the move seeming to show Marvel taking a step into the touchy arena of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Sabra Marvel
Marvel

@kkhelil shed light on the character's disturbing history in the comics, pointing out specific troubling incidents in the way she and others were written in the past.

"This is how Arabs are presented in Sabra’s first appearance in Marvel comics. The word Palestinian is never used. An Arab child in the comic who is an illiterate liar and thief is killed by black veiled bombers so Sabra can cry over them. Literally shoot and cry propaganda."

@yumna_patel discussed the origin of the Sabra name, including its ties to a specific historical incident.

"Apparently ‘Sabra’ is a term used to refer to Jews born in historic Palestine (correct me if I’m wrong). It is also the name of the neighborhood in Beirut where Israeli forces oversaw the massacre of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra & Shatila Massacre in 1982."

@vriglowup clarified the name's origin, as well as its meaning.

"yea but she was actually written prior to that :) she was named after the sabras plant, which is also a nickname for a person born in israel <3"

@Hezbolsonaro made a dark joke at the decision's expense, linking the heroine's potential actions to those of the Israeli government she is, at the very least, written to be a part of. 

"The villain is a six year old Palestinian child"

@MatthewJohn666 made a similar comment, imagining the ways a character like this would act in the service of a very specific political agenda.

"Israel’s Marvel superhero Sabra has many powers, including demolishing Palestinian homes with her mind and assassinating Palestinian children with her laser beam eyes"

@oofouchoww opened up about their Jewish identity, noting how, to them, Sabra exists more as propaganda than actual representation.

"never asking for anything again because how did jewish people asking for better representation become sabra, who was created to be israeli propaganda being in the mcu and the villain of a movie that has the same name as an antisemitic conspiracy being played by a jewish actor"

The Complexities of Sabra's Inclusion in Captain America 4

Marvel's decision to introduce Sabra into the MCU is a confusing one, embroiling the company in a complicated political issue without any clear purpose.

The Israel/Palestine conflict is undoubtedly one of the modern world's most controversial topics. As such, the decision to embrace it, and so carelessly, at that, is a strange one.

For one thing, Sabra has an extremely troubling history. Past depictions of the character show clear biases that distort the issue in favor of racist and arbitrary attitudes, ones that reduce complicated politics into nothingness. Additionally, Sabra's ties to the Israeli government in the comics effectively sanction a whole host of grim behaviors, also seemingly showing Marvel taking a clear stance on the overall conflict.

Additionally, this kind of representation is also complicated for those who share Sabra's Jewish identity. Inherently linking perhaps the most prominent example of Judaism within the MCU (Oscar Isacc's 30-second yarmulke scene notwithstanding) to the Israeli government may solidify beliefs about Judaism and Zionism that have proven hard to disentangle.

At this point, it's unclear what role Sabra will play in the upcoming Captain America: New World Order, though it is quite likely that much of the political history and baggage tied to the character will be dropped. Even so, there is something inherently perplexing about the decision to adapt such a controversy-tinged character, a feeling that fans clearly share.

Whether or not Marvel understands the political weight of the decision it has made, it seems fans are doing their best to make that clear, pulling from their own experiences, real-life history, and the comic book source material to do so.


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