Disney and Marvel Studios announced at Expo D23 that “Unorthodox” Emmy-nominated Shira Haas will be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as superhero Sabra in the fourth “Captain America” movie, officially titled “Captain America: New World Order”. In the comics, Sabra is a mutant who serves as a Mossad agent. The character’s inclusion in the comics has long been controversial, but Marvel has confirmed Variety that he’s taking a “new approach” with Sabra for the big screen.
“While our characters and stories are inspired by the comics,” the studio said in a statement to Variety“they’re still freshly imagined for today’s screen and audience, and the filmmakers are taking a fresh approach with the character of Sabra who was first introduced in the comics over 40 years ago .”
Sabra first appeared in comics in the early 1980s courtesy of “The Incredible Hulk.” Her presence became a point of contention as she brought Marvel comics firmly into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a 1981 Hulk comic, for example, Sabra shows little remorse for the death of a Palestinian boy until the Hulk teaches her about human values (via The New York Times).
CNN notes that Sabra has often fought offensive Arab stereotypes in the comics, heightening Palestinian concerns about the character joining the MCU onscreen. The Institute for Middle East Understanding, a US-based pro-Palestinian organization, criticized the character of Sabra to “glorify the Israeli army and police.
The name of the superhero itself has also been a source of controversy. As The Times reports: “For Israeli Jews, a Sabra can simply be someone born in Israel. But Sabra is also the name of a refugee camp in Lebanon where a Christian militia massacred hundreds of Palestinians as Israeli troops stood there 40 years ago.
“Captain America: New World Order” is in development at Marvel and a script has not yet been finalized. It’s worth noting that as Marvel has increased its on-screen representation, it has regularly brought in cultural consultants to ensure the studio isn’t reinforcing harmful stereotypes. Stanford professor Priya Satia consulted on “Ms. Marvel,” for example, while Egyptologist Ramy Romany consulted on “Moon Knight.”
Marvel Studios has also been embraced in the past for taking a new on-screen approach to a controversial comic book character. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was mired in controversy before its release, in part due to the casting of Tony Leung as the eponymous hero’s father. Shang-Chi’s father in the comics is a racist stereotype named Fu Manchu, but Marvel recast the character as the more quirky Xu Wenwu for the film. Leung’s character and performance has been widely celebrated as one of the best and most dynamic MCU villains.
Haas is set to star in “Captain America: New World Order” alongside Anthony Mackie as the title hero. Disney has set a May 3, 2024 release date for the film.