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Why Marvel Gender-Swapped Moon Knight’s New Hero

May Calamawy, Moon Knight, Layla
By Richard Nebens

Marvel Studios delivered yet another groundbreaking Disney+ series with Oscar Isaac's Moon Knight to kick off the MCU's efforts in 2022. The six-episode adventure introduced not only the franchise's first confirmed Jewish character in Marc Spector but also another powerful female hero in May Calamawy's Layla El-Faouly.

With Moon Knight taking a deep dive into ancient Egyptian mythology from start to finish, Layla's family history played a key role in the plot, especially when her father was revealed to be an archeologist called Abdallah El-Faouly. This name tied back to a character called the Scarlet Scarab, who had close ties to Captain America in the comics; however, this time, it was ultimately Layla who suited up as a hero in the finale instead of her male comic counterpart.

Scarlet Scarab, comics
Marvel

This became an important moment for Moon Knight in its final episode as it brought the franchise's first superhero of Arab descent, which also came with another gender-bent character within the MCU. Following the series' run on Disney+, its episode of Marvel Studios: Assembled dove more into how that moment came to fruition for Calamawy and her new heroine.

MCU Producer on Moon Knight's Scarlet Scarab

In the latest episode of Marvel Studios: Assembled, Moon Knight's cast and crew spoke about May Calamawy's Layla transforming into the Marvel Comics superhero, Scarlet Scarab - a mantle typically occupied by Abdul Faoul or his son Mehemet Faoul.

Scarlet Scarab, Marvel Studios
Marvel

Marvel Studios producer Grant Curtis shared how the "traditionally... male" hero made their way into the narrative through the natural process of developing the story, giving the team something that they needed for the plot at hand:

“We zeroed in on an Egyptian superhero in the Marvel universe named the Scarlet Scarab. Traditionally it’s a male character who goes and reappropriates Egyptian artifacts from people who have stolen or gotten them by ill means and returns them to the rightful owners. And we thought, ’Man, the way our narrative is teeing up, that lines up with exactly what we needed for our show.’”

Director Mohamed Diab admitted that the hero wasn't a part of the show at first; rather Calamawy's performance "as an Egyptian character" made him and the team come up with the idea to "make her into a superhero:"

“The show didn’t start with the Scarlet Scarab, but seeing May and developing her as an Egyptian character, step by step, the idea came up. Let’s make her into a superhero.”

Diab also touched on the representation that came through with this moment, noting it as something "that brings people together" in a continually crazy world:

“Right now, Marvel is the world to a lot of people. Kids, teens. To be part of that world, it means that you exist. Representation, really… I know this word now has been thrown right and left. But having someone like this on screen, defending good, that’s the kind of story that brings people together.”

Speaking with fellow director Justin Benson, who asked Diab if it "fulfills a childhood wish" for him, Diab didn't hesitate in saying that it "absolutely" did that.

Calamawy shared how much freedom the moment gave her in expressing herself, hoping that Layla's time as a superhero can help more people feel more empowered to be themselves in real life:

“I feel like, and I’m going speak from my experience, like when I’ve seen Arabs on films, like, it’s given me so much permission and faith that I also have a space and a place to do that. And I want women there to want to express themselves through art and to share their story and to, like, get out there more… And if I can share that or help one person feel that way, then I feel like my job is done.”

Scarlet Scarab concept art
Marvel Studios

Scarlet Scarab's Impact on MCU Fans

The MCU is no stranger to gender-bending characters to fit the story, as was the case with Tilda Swinton's Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Annette Benning's Mar-Vell in Captain Marvel. This time, however, it made even more of an impact for viewers to see a character like Layla evolve into such a powerful hero in her own right by the end of the series.

Seeing as the Scarlet Scarab was originally a Captain America villain, Marvel Studios certainly took some liberties with bringing the character into the MCU as a female hero for Moon Knight. With a renewed focus on bringing more representation into the MCU for Phase 4 and beyond, Calamawy had an incredible opportunity to add to that with her own new version of this classic comic character.

All six episodes of Moon Knight are available to stream on Disney+.