Why did ‘Captain Marvel’ become so controversial for some fans?

Let’s just say this up front: Captain Marvel is an entertaining movie that you should definitely see on the big screen this weekend, especially if you’re excited for Avengers: Endgame.

But, if you haven’t been following the online chatter around Brie Larson’s superhero debut, you should also probably know that it’s somehow become the most controversial MCU movie so far.

You’ll need to know that ahead of time as there’s absolutely no sign of it in the movie itself. That’s because Captain Marvel’s controversial for reasons that have nothing to do with the plot.

Captain Marvel’s poster campaign has been impressive (credit: Marvel Studios)
Captain Marvel’s poster campaign has been impressive (credit: Marvel Studios)

Now, we know 2013’s Iron Man 3 caused a big stink in comic-book stores, thanks to an unpredictable twist that fans felt made the movie unfaithful to the source material, but we don’t remember writer/director Shane Black being compared to Hitler.

One particularly noxious tweet we saw about the film contained a picture comparing Brie Larson to the fascist dictator, drawing a parallel between her “behaviour” with that of the man responsible for millions of deaths in WW2.

Yep, really. But what ‘behaviour’ is being referred to?

The conversation started in June of last year, when Brie Larson called for more diversity in film criticism.

After talking about the high percentage of white males in the industry, Larson stated, “I don’t need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work about A Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him! I want to know what it meant to women of colour, biracial women, to teen women of colour.”

Larson elaborated, saying she wasn’t preaching a message of exclusion, but inclusion.

“Am I saying I hate white dudes? No, I am not. What I am saying is if you make a movie that is a love letter to women of colour, there is an insanely low chance a woman of colour will have a chance to see your movie, and review your movie.”

Which seems fair enough, right? But the issues really started when Brie Larson displayed the courage of her convictions, and suggested the Captain Marvel press tour be more diverse.

“I want to go out of my way to connect the dots,” she said. “It just took me using the power that I’ve been given now as Captain Marvel. [The role] comes with all these privileges and powers that make me feel uncomfortable because I don’t really need them.”

The ‘Captain Marvel’ star attending the film’s New York screening. [Photo: Getty]
The ‘Captain Marvel’ star attending the film’s New York screening. [Photo: Getty]

Male fans went on the defensive, linking the two statements, deciding that Larson was saying Captain Marvel wasn’t ‘made for them.’

Considering that a considerable amount of the fan base (though, not all – Marvel movies have a fairly respectable gender split) is male, that’s sparked a lot of conversation around Captain Marvel.

Read more: Captain Marvel: Brie Larson responds to ‘smile’ criticism

First fans made the sexist observation that Captain Marvel should ‘smile more’ in the film’s marketing (and there’s a joke in the movie about that), then they started bombing Rotten Tomatoes ‘excited to see’ meter, taking the anticipation percentage down to the low 20s, leading the website to remove the mechanic from the site.

Now, we’re not saying that everyone who doesn’t want to see Captain Marvel is sexist, just that – as with the Ghostbusters reboot (which, to be fair, wasn’t great) controversy – there’s a section of the fandom which appears to have been infuriated by a perceived message of political correctness. To them, diversity and inclusivity has taken precedence over making a good movie.

Princess Leia takes control (credit: Lucasfilm).
Princess Leia takes control (credit: Lucasfilm).

This is a complex debate, with some fans making the entirely reasonable point that they love Ellen Ripley, Princess Leia, Black Widow, and many more strong women movie characters, so how can they be sexist? But the difference is, they’ve seen those movies and, for all they know, they might love Captain Marvel if they give her a chance.

Read more: Captain Marvel introduces a Marvellous tribute to Stan Lee

But the pre-release campaign – by a vocal minority – against Captain Marvel has been overwhelming. One simple YouTube search for the film will return hundreds of videos featuring fans either ranting at the camera, or calmly trying to organise a boycott.

Later clarifying her statements about wanting more diversity on the press circuit for the film, Larson said: “What I’m looking for is to bring more seats up to the table. No one is getting their chair taken away. There’s not less seats at the table, there’s just more seats at the table.”

Yahoo Movies UK’s Sam Ashurst spoke to Captain Marvel star Gemma Chan about the controversy, and she had a perceptive view on the issue.

Captain Marvel star Gemma Chan on the online backlash against Captain Marvel’s fight for inclusivity.
Captain Marvel star Gemma Chan on the online backlash against Captain Marvel’s fight for inclusivity.

“It is unfortunate, but there’s always a danger if you stick your head above the parapet and challenge the status quo, and make a change that’s for the good, you do open yourself up to criticism, and a backlash,” Chan said. “I think that’s sadly inevitable these days, but I don’t think you can let that stop you.”

“I have such admiration for Brie, for what she’s done, and I do think she has the best intentions. Her words have been twisted by certain elements. There’s that saying, ‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.’”

“I think that applies to whether we’re talking about race relations, and challenging the status quo there, or gender dynamics, gender relations. For me, it’s not about men versus women, or black versus white or anything like that, it’s about us all working together to improve a system to improve everyone’s opportunity.”

“No-one wants special treatment, everyone wants equal opportunity, so I hope things move forward in a positive way. All we can do is keep reinforcing that positive message. There will be some people you can convince, and some other people who will never get it, but you can’t let that stop you.”

Read more: Captain Marvel will ‘shake things up’ with the Avengers

Let’s hope that when the film is released, it matches the box office of Wonder Woman (a film comic-book fans didn’t have a problem with) and the issue is resolved.

But something tells us this is a debate that’s going to be raging long into Phase 4 of the MCU, and potentially beyond.

If fans are yet to let 2016’s Ghostbusters go (with the recent announcement of a reboot reigniting fierce debate), we could be in for years, not months, of discussion.

But if Captain Marvel can go on to help defeat Thanos in Endgame, we’re sure an army of trolls won’t phase her.

Captain Marvel is in cinemas from Friday, 8 March.