With Eternals' ten heroes coming from a variety of different genders, ethnicities, and sexualities, it's safe to say Chloe Zhao's historical epic may be the most diverse project to come out of Marvel Studios yet.
Despite this, Jack Kirby's original comic series didn't necessarily represent the same level of diversity, and Marvel Studios has made some significant changes to create this. Within Marvel Comics, Makkari, Ajak, and Sprite are all male characters, but in the MCU they will be played by Lauren Ridloff, Salma Hayek, and Lia McHugh, respectively.
Since the team's original casting announcement at San-Diego Comic-Con 2019, fans have been wondering why so many characters were gender-swapped for the movie. Following the world premiere, several members of the cast and crew have offered an explanation for the decision.
Eternals Gender-Swapping Explained
During the Eternals press conference, director Chloe Zhao addressed why several characters were gender-swapped from their comic counterparts for the movie.
Zhao explained that “those decisions were already made” in the treatments she read by the Marvel Studios team before she came onto the project:
“When I came to the process at the beginning, I read a treatment that I believe Kevin [Feige], Nate [Moore], and the team at Marvel Studios put together, and those decisions were already made.”
Additionally, the director went on to reveal that the characters gender-swapped were “very specifically chosen,” such as the Eternals' leader Ajak being “the mother figure:”
“That's probably one of the reasons that really drew me to [the movie], that it wasn't just, 'Let's swap the genders of characters.' It was very specifically chosen, like the leader of the team to be the mother figure, the decision was made on purpose.”
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige chimed in to explain that since Eternals is all about “the history of humanity,” it was important to have a diverse cast of heroes who resemble a “cross-section of humanity:”
“Yeah, and as Nate was advocating for this project, you can't do the history of humanity without the heroes looking like a cross-section of humanity. And that is really what the goal was.”
Kingo actor Kumail Nanjiani commented on the interesting way Zhao handled the Eternals' diversity as it “wasn't to make a point,” it was to show how “things have always been” which “felt extremely natural:”
“I want to say one thing, you know, in the way that Chloe directed all of us. Obviously, the diversity of the cast and this team is something we talk about a lot. But the way she approached it was so interesting, it wasn't to make a point, it's to say, 'This is how things should always have been.' It felt extremely natural.”
Is Eternals' Gender-Swapping for the Better?
As Eternals will explore the history of humanity dating back thousands of years, it's only fitting for its heroes to represent the diversity that makes up mankind. The ten immortal heroes are made of an even split of male and female characters with a variety of ethnic backgrounds and sexualities.
Since most of the original Eternals from Marvel Comics are male, creating this representation of diversity required some key changes. However, genders aren't the only things that have been changed for this purpose, as Brian Tyree Henry's Phastos isn't gay, at least not openly, within the source material.
Making significant changes to characters from comic source material has been a point of controversy for years now, such as when Tilda Swinton was cast as The Ancient One for Doctor Strange, a character who is classically an Asian male.
While these changes have been made in the past for a variety of divisive reasons, Zhao's Eternals seems to be a uniquely justifiable case in which characters have been gender-swapped to help match the film's message and themes.
Eternals hits theaters on November 5, 2021.