Marvel is set to debut perhaps their most controversial character yet in 2024.
D23 was full of plenty of exciting announcements (and a few surprises) for Marvel fans. In addition to new footage from films like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels, and the cast announcement for Marvel’s Thunderbolts, a fourth film in the Captain America series was unveiled—Captain America: New World Order. While the biggest surprise may have been the reveal of Tim Blake Nelson‘s return as Samuel Stearns, a.k.a. The Leader (not seen since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk), stalwart studio maestro Kevin Feige also announced that the upcoming Anthony Mackie-starrer would serve as the debut of Sabra (Shira Haas, best known for her Emmy-nominated work in Netflix’s Unorthodox), an Israeli hero. Response was swift, with various critics both hailing and denouncing the character. But who exactly is Sabra, and why is she such a flashpoint?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has roots in the late 19th-early 20th century, when attempts by the British to create a Jewish homeland in the Palestinian territory inflamed tensions among both Jews and native Arab Palestinians, an ongoing and complex conflict that has sadly resulted in mass casualties on both sides. Where the character of Sabra courts controversy is in both her appearance and the way in which she speaks of Arab people as essentially terrorists and butchers. For many years, the character wore a white bodysuit emblazoned with a blue Star of David, a blue quilled cape, and sported a blue Star of David tiara—in other words, a walking, talking Israeli national flag. While seemingly innocuous, certainly to the majority of readers in the U.S., the costume was seen as blatant disregard of Arab Palestinians and their long-fought history. Furthermore, in her debut issue, much is made of Sabra seeing the body of a dead Arab boy and “for the first time,” seeing Arabs as human beings—a narrative that’s slap-in-the-face shocking by today’s standards.