Disney and Marvel Studios announced at the D23 Expo that Emmy-nominated unorthodox Shira Haas will join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the superhero Sabra in Captain America’s upcoming fourth film, officially titled Captain America: New World Order. In the comics, Sabra is a mutant who acts as a Mossad agent. The character’s inclusion in the comics has long caused controversy, but Marvel confirmed that Variety that it is 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 envisioned for the screen and audience today, and the filmmakers are taking a new approach with the character Sabra first introduced to the comics over 40 years ago.”
Sabra first appeared in the comics in the early 1980s courtesy of “The Incredible Hulk.” Its presence became a point of contention as it brought Marvel comics firmly into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, in a 1981 Hulk comic, 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 often battled offensive Arab stereotypes in the comics, escalating Palestinian concerns about the character joining the MCU on screen. The Institute for Middle East Understanding, a US-based pro-Palestinian organization, criticized the character from Sabra for ‘glorifying the Israeli army and police’.
The superhero’s name itself has also been a source of controversy. As The Times reports, “For 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 forces allowed 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 its on-screen representation, it has routinely engaged cultural advisors to ensure the studio doesn’t reinforce 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 a fresh on-screen approach to a controversial cartoon character. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was controversial prior to release, in part due to its cast of Tony Leung as the father of the eponymous hero. Shang-Chi’s father in the comics is a racist stereotype called Fu Manchu, but Marvel transformed the character into the more original Xu Wenwu for the movie. Leung’s character and achievements have been widely celebrated as one of the better and more dynamic MCU villains.
Haas will star in “Captain America: New World Order” opposite Anthony Mackie as the title hero. Disney has set a release date for the film on May 3, 2024.