Disney/Marvel is also moving forward with Captain America: New World Order, a film set to release in 2025 and appears to align Sam Wilson's Captain America with Sabra, an Israeli American superhero originally introduced in 1981 in issue #256 of The Incredible Hulk. Since Disney/Marvel announced Sabra's inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2022, stating that the film will "take a new approach with the character for today’s audience," Palestinian voices in film and the arts have called the creative choice problematic.
"[Throughout] Sabra’s tenure as a superhero [in the comics], her racist attitudes towards Arab characters doesn’t waver, even though it isn’t as overt," wrote Tariq Raouf in the article "Why Marvel's Sabra Shouldn't Be in the MCU," published on The Nerdist in September 2022. "For Palestinian people, Sabra isn’t the name of some hummus brand or a hero they admire. It’s where the murder of thousands of people took place. And Sabra is where over 12,000 people still live today while fighting for their political and civil rights. It’s laughable that Marvel thinks any 'new approach' to this superhero would ease this generational pain."
A coalition of Palestinian film and arts organizations shared similar concerns in an open letter published on BDSMovement.net in April 2023.
"The character’s backstory includes working for the Israeli government and occupation forces," states the letter, which is signed by 29 organizations including The Freedom Theatre, a landmark theatre and cultural center in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that was recently raided and vandalized by Israeli soldiers and whose main directors were arrested, one of whom is still in detention.
"By reviving this racist character in any form, Marvel is promoting Israel’s brutal oppression of Palestinians," the letter continues. "Principled filmgoers would have boycotted a movie featuring a superhero that represented the South African apartheid regime. Likewise, we urge conscientious audiences worldwide to join us in boycotting Captain America: New World Order, and standing up for freedom, justice and equality."
For many years, I was a fan of Disney and Marvel Studios. After I had my son, I looked forward to when we could watch Disney animated films together, and the day I could take him to Disneyland for the first time. I've watched all of the MCU films in Phases 1 and 2, most of Phase 3, and dipped in and out of Phase 4 to watch Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and some of the streaming series'. But as someone who is listening to Palestinian voices, as an advocate for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the end of occupation in all Palestinian territories, as a person following Palestinian journalists in Gaza as they report on the devastation they and their people are experiencing despite the high likelihood they'll be targeted and killed, the idea of tuning into Disney's newest content doesn't sit right.
FINDING RADICAL OPENNESS
In bell hooks' essay "dancing with words" from her book Remembered Rapture, hooks wrote that critical writing that aims to shift paradigms must let go of any longing for "subculture stardom" and be cognizant of being seduced into speaking "in the interests of mainstream cultural politics of domination."
"It demands of critics fundamental intellectual allegiance to radical openness, to free thinking," wrote hooks.
Bearing witness to Israel's bombardment and siege on Gaza and the toll on deaf Palestinians, as well as knowing what Palestinian voices in the arts have spoken out about as it relates to the next MCU installment of Captain America, it seems to me that I'd have to find a lie to excuse myself from giving credence to these legitimate issues in order to watch Echo or plan to watch the next Captain America film. The lie I might tell myself and be seduced into believing is that it's okay to tune in to these projects because they spotlight and center BIPOC characters who haven't historically been featured in mainstream media, and include BIPOC cast members, directors, and writers who haven't historically had equitable opportunities to join TV and film projects with the potential to reach millions of viewers. But if I also seek to resist the practices of empire, if I want to practice radical openness as described by hooks, then I must hold space for the idea that these projects are applying a veneer of diversity and inclusion for the capitalistic benefit of an oligopolistic company that signals support for oppressive entities.
In a statement Disney CEO Bob Iger gave to Variety on behalf of the company upon announcing the $2 million donation pledge on October 12, 2023, a statement in which sympathy was only expressed for "Jews in Israel," Iger said, "[W]e must all do what we can to support the innocent people experiencing so much pain, violence, and uncertainty — particularly children."
Since October 7, 2023, Palestinian children in Gaza have become orphaned, separated from their families, lost limbs, and have been martyred. As of January 8, 2024, Palestinian children make up nearly 40% of the estimated 22,835 people killed by the actions and presence of Israeli military forces.
Did Disney's statement on October 12 also consider Palestinian children who've only known life under apartheid? No follow-up statement by Disney has been made to the public to date, neither to clarify nor to acknowledge or sympathize with the experience of Palestinian children in Gaza. But if I wanted to find a lie more palatable than the truth, I'd make myself believe that Iger's statement on October 12 means that Disney shouldn't have to.
LOOKING TOWARDS ACTION
If I want to help manifest a world in which kids experience childhoods built on collective care and filled with playtime and imagining radical possibilities, then after looking inward, one follow-up action would be to appeal to adults to think about how the practices of empire show up in the popular art we're goaded and influenced to engage with. Another action is to demonstrate how placing the popular art within a wider social context can help us discern whether art that appeals to ideals of diversity and inclusion is in service of liberation rather than oppression. Because, from there, we can pay it forward in discussions with other peers, and in conversations with the generations that follow us.
Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said "[N]obody's free until everybody's free." It's on me and each of us to shake ourselves out of finding lies more palatable than truths, so that we're ready and able to radically imagine a formula rooted in a shared humanity.
As for Echo? I'm opting out of watching it until, at minimum, Disney publicly expresses empathy towards Palestinian children and deaf Palestinians in Gaza and throughout Occupied Palestine, calls for a permanent ceasefire, and pledges to donate more than $2 million to organizations like the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund (PCRF), Humanity & Inclusion (a nonprofit that serves disabled Palestinians in Gaza and throughout Occupied Palestine), or Pious Project.