Disney and Marvel Studios announced at the D23 Expo that “Unorthodox” Emmy nominee Shira Haas is joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the superhero Sabra in the upcoming 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 generated controversy, but Marvel confirmed to Variety that it’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 are always freshly imagined for the screen and today’s audience, and the filmmakers are taking a new approach with the character Sabra who was first introduced in the comics over 40 years ago.”
Sabra first appeared in the comics in the early 1980s courtesy of “The Incredible Hulk.” Her presence became a point of contention as it brought Marvel comics firmly into the Israeli-Palestine conflict. In a 1981 Hulk comic, for instance, Sabra shows little remorse over the death of a Palestinian boy until the Hulk teaches her about human values (via The New York Times).
CNN notes that Sabra often battled offensive Arab stereotypes in the comics, escalating concerns from Palestinians over the character joining the MCU on screen. The Institute for Middle East Understanding, a U.S.-based pro-Palestinian organization, criticized the character of Sabra for “glorifying the Israeli army and police.”
The name of the superhero itself has also been a source of controversy. As The Times reports: “To Israeli Jews, a Sabra can simply be a person born in Israel. But Sabra is also the name of a refugee camp in Lebanon where a Christian militia massacred hundreds of Palestinians while Israeli troops stood by 40 years ago.”
“Captain America: New World Order” is in development at Marvel and a screenplay has yet to be finalized. It’s worth noting that as Marvel has increased representation on screen, it has routinely brought in cultural consultants to ensure the studio does not reinforce harmful stereotypes. Stanford professor Priya Satia consulted on “Ms. Marvel,” for instance, while Egyptologist Ramy Romany consulted on “Moon Knight.”
Marvel Studios has also been embraced in the past for taking a fresh approach on screen to a controversial comic book character. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was mired in controversy ahead of its release in part due to Tony Leung’s casting as the eponymous hero’s father. Shang-Chi’s father in the comics is a racist stereotype named Fu Manchu, but Marvel refashioned the character into the more original Xu Wenwu for the film. The character and Leung’s performance were widely celebrated as one of the better and more dynamic MCU villains.
Haas is set to star in “Captain America: New World Order” opposite Anthony Mackie as the title hero. Disney has set a May 3, 2024 release date for the movie.