With upcoming films based on Marvel’s Fantastic Four and X-Men comics, the MCU’s Phase 4 may finally fix its issues with Jewish representation. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has dominated pop culture since it popularized comic-book-style shared universe storytelling with 2012’s The Avengers. In recent years, the MCU has done an admirable job of making its ever-growing pantheon of heroes diverse and representative of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender identities. One unfortunate exception to this has been Marvel’s Jewish characters, whose religious or ethnic identities are often overlooked, erased, or rewritten in problematic ways. While the damage can’t be undone for some characters, Phase 4 presents the MCU with perfect opportunities to represent several prominent Jewish characters from Marvel’s comics.
In the 1930s and 40s, Jewish American writers and artists often entered the growing comic book industry since it was far more welcoming than mainstream publishing and advertising fields, which were largely run by white men who weren’t particularly keen on hiring Jewish creators. In the comic book publishing field, writers like Stan Lee and artists like Jack Kirby helped establish what’s now known as the Golden Age of Comic Books, which lasted from the late 30s through the mid-50s. Among Marvel’s most famous Golden Age characters were Captain America, Bucky, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch.
Despite its numerous Jewish writers and artists in the Golden and Silver ages, Marvel’s comic universe has surprisingly few Jewish protagonists. Throughout the Bronze and ongoing Modern-ages, however, Marvel has gradually diversified its universe, creating new characters of varying identities to better represent its readers and the real world, especially with most of Marvel’s stories taking place in the greater New York area, one of the most diverse places in the world. The MCU, despite lacking in diversity and mishandling its Jewish characters early on, has been improving its inclusiveness and has an ideal opportunity to properly represent Jewish characters in its upcoming Phase 4 properties.
The MCU Has Mishandled Jewish Representation (Especially The Maximoffs)
The MCU wasn’t especially diverse in its early phases, with nearly all lead roles being played by white male actors. One notable exception was Scarlett Johansson, who is half-Jewish, but her character, Black Widow, presumably isn’t, since she’s never tied to Judaism by ethnicity or religion in the films. The same can be said of Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang and Michael Douglass’ Hank Pym, whose actors are Jewish but show no indication of Jewish ethnicity or religion in the films. The MCU Netflix series, The Punisher, is the franchise’s notable exception to their lack of Jewish representation, however, with a cast that includes five Jewish actors and actresses, with two playing the Jewish characters David and Sarah Lieberman, whose religion and ethnicity is acknowledged. Both characters only appeared in the show’s first season, however.
Two of Marvel comics’ most well-known Jewish characters, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, made their MCU debuts in Avengers: Age of Ultron, albeit with problematic differences from the source material. While the MCU couldn’t reference the twins’ connection to their father, Magneto, for legal reasons, Age of Ultron rewrote them as members of the Nazi-affiliated Hydra terrorist group, which is in extremely poor taste, considering that they’re the children of two Holocaust survivors in the comics. Moreover, only one of the twins, Pietro, was played by a Jewish actor, and he died with only one MCU appearance. Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, never references any form of religious or ethnic Jewish identity in her many MCU roles. Note: Whose Rage At The Death Of His Family Allowed Him To Harness
Marvel Is Getting Better At Diversity & Inclusion
Although the MCU mishandled what should have been a tasteful depiction of two prominent Jewish characters from the comics, the franchise has gradually improved its diversity and inclusiveness in other ways, beginning with Phase 3. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, despite featuring a white male lead, have extremely diverse casts that realistically depict Peter Parker’s home borough of Queens. The MCU’s best examples of an increasingly diverse film franchise are Black Panther and Captain Marvel, as well as Phase 4’s Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals, all of which feature women and POC in lead roles and stories that tastefully depict a variety of identities, including prominent LBGTQ+ and deaf characters.
Many upcoming Phase 4 properties look to continue this endeavor, with Black Panther and Captain Marvel sequels that will introduce Riri Williams, a.k.a Ironheart, and Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms. Marvel, to the MCU. Additionally, Phase 4’s TV shows have been improving the franchise’s diversity as well, having Sam Wilson succeed Steve Rogers as Captain America in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The series directly addresses the United States’ long and sordid history of institutional racism with Isaiah Bradley, whose comic and MCU origins intentionally parallel the Tuskegee Study. Note: While The Legends Timeline Made Efforts To Patch Up Continuity Snarls
MCU Phase 4 Can Finally Address Jewish Identity & Culture
The MCU’s Phase 4 is still in progress and some of its upcoming properties provide the franchise with ideal opportunities to tastefully depict Jewish characters. The upcoming Disney+ series, Moon Knight, stars Mark Spector, a character with a Jewish ethnic and religious background, though his portrayer on-screen, Oscar Isaac, is not Jewish. Two other upcoming properties, based on the Fantastic Four and X-Men comics, could feature the MCU’s best depictions of Jewish characters through heroes like Ben Grimm and Kitty Pryde, as well as villains like Magneto. Note: Timothy Olyphant Could Be A Suitable Alternate Universe Iron Man
Ben Grimm, a.k.a The Thing, is based on Jewish artist (and Fantastic Four co-creator) Jack Kirby. Like Kirby, Grimm hails from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and his ethnic and religious Jewish background has become increasingly prominent over the years, with Grimm being compared, understandably, to the Golem of Jewish folklore. The X-Men’s greatest nemesis, Magneto, is a famously complex character with a tragic background as a Holocaust survivor, having been persecuted for his ethnic and religious Judaism. Another prominent Jewish X-Men character, Kitty Pryde, famously compared her easily-hidden mutant powers to her Jewish ethnicity in an issue of All-New X-Men. Pryde is a white-passing Ashkenazi Jewish woman, whose mutant powers allow her to similarly pass as an ordinary human. With Jewish actors playing these roles in their respective properties and dialogue that respectfully depicts their ethnic and religious identities, the MCU may finally correct their past mistakes with Jewish representation in their Fantastic Four and X-Men adaptations.