Why What Brie Larson Says Matters to “Captain Marvel”

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Promotional image for “Captain Marvel” (2019).

I’ve been watching the Captain Marvel (2019) controversy for a little while and I think I’ve figured out what’s going on, though I’m not sure most people have stumbled onto this idea.

As you probably know, news outlets such as The Mary Sue believe that all of the negative pre-release and now release reviews of the movie are all by men who can’t stand the thought of a powerful female superhero (hello Wonder Woman). Others, such as Bounding Into Comics say this is a total lie and it’s just that the movie isn’t very good and shoves a feminist, social justice agenda down the audience’s throat.

Fortunately, neutral reviewers such as the Associated Press give a much more accurate picture of the film, calling it rather “average”. In fact, on her twitter feed, AP reviewer Lindsey Bahr stated:

Captain Marvel can be the victim of an insane trolling and also an underwhelming movie.

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Screenshot from twitter

Bahr is right in that since the movie was released to theaters, there’s been a tremendous amount of trolling of “Captain Marvel” on Rotten Tomatoes. Now I can’t trust any of the reviews that either pan the film or praise it.

But the problem isn’t the movie. The problem is Brie Larson. Okay, let me explain.

I once asked if I was wasting my time trying to become a published SF/F author since the industry is biasing toward women, people of color, and other disadvantaged populations while I am just a white, cisgender, religious, old, parent/grandparent male. In other words, am I going to be judged by my identity first and the quality of my stories a distant second?

I revisited that idea regarding the use of pen names, posted a link to that article on a private writer’s group on Facebook I thought I could trust, and (metaphorically) had my ass handed to me by someone who assumed that my use of the word “conservative” meant that I was self-identifying as Hitler.

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Photo of author Amélie Wen Zhao as found on her website

And lest we forget, the twitterati viciously went after YA Fantasy author Amélie Wen Zhao forcing her to withdraw her first novel from publication because they (erroneously) accused her of mischaracterizing slavery and of “anti-black” sentiments.

Who you are and the content you present is sometimes much more important in certain circles of social media than your actual talent or the quality of your writing (or acting/filmmaking).

Now let’s get back to Brie Larson.

According to The Mary Sue, in an interview Ms. Larson gave to The Guardian, the actress stated:

“About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white males. So, I spoke to Dr Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, who put together a study to confirm that. Moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive. After speaking with you, the film critic Valerie Complex and a few other women of color, it sounded like across the board they weren’t getting the same opportunities as others. When I talked to the facilities that weren’t providing it, they all had different excuses. I want to go out of my way to connect the dots. 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.”

Of course, many conservative news sources, including Louder with Crowder immediately took Ms. Larson to task for “hating white men” (I’m paraphrasing), but it wasn’t that statement alone that got people’s attention. She is also quoted in the Huffington Post as saying:

“I don’t want to hear what a white man has to say about ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ I want to hear what a woman of color, a biracial woman has to say about the film. I want to hear what teenagers think about the film.”

In case you missed it, A Wrinkle in Time is a 2018 film starring Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling that’s based on the classic 1962 science fantasy novel by Madeleine L’Engle. I love that novel and read it to my children when they were young, but when I saw the trailers for last year’s movie, I realized that the characters and story had been totally re-imaged to completely change its meaning.

L’Eagle has stated that her Christianity was a strong factor in the writing of her book, but the movie took all that away, choosing a more “social justice” flavor (hence the cast), even though Time Magazine called it Hollywood’s Once and Future Classic. That said, as of this writing Rotten Tomatoes records a mere 42% on the “Tomatometer” for “Wrinkle” and an even more disappointing 27% audience score. Doesn’t sound like a classic to me. Even Rotten Tomatoes says:

A Wrinkle in Time is visually gorgeous, big-hearted, and occasionally quite moving; unfortunately, it’s also wildly ambitious to a fault, and often less than the sum of its classic parts.

I think I’ll stick with the novel.

Now be patient. I’m trying to put a picture together here.

Ace of Spades HQ, which obviously has its own strong biases, provided a number of screen captures of Ms. Larson’s tweets:

Screen capture

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Screen capture

Screen capture

Okay, that last one may not be authentic, but still, the picture is starting to come into focus.

Relative to her personal life:

Larson is reticent to discuss her personal life and declines to answer questions in interviews that make her uncomfortable. When asked about her desire to be private, she has said that she fears being judged for her flaws and has added that the privacy allows her to play a wide variety of parts without being typecast. Larson began dating Alex Greenwald, a musician and lead singer of the band Phantom Planet, in 2013, and they were engaged from 2016 to 2019. The couple cohabited in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. She had credited Greenwald for creating a safe space for her and for empowering her to take risks in her work. Larson maintains an active social media presence and uses it as a platform to share opinions and uplifting posts written by herself.

Let’s put it all together. Larson keeps her private life private, which is fine and even refreshing but we do have this:

Larson experienced trauma when her parents divorced when she was seven. She had a dysfunctional relationship with her father; she has recalled, “As a kid I tried to understand him and understand the situation. But he didn’t do himself any favors. I don’t think he ever really wanted to be a parent.” Soon after their split, Heather relocated to Los Angeles with her two daughters to fulfill Larson’s acting ambition. They had limited financial means and lived in a small apartment near Hollywood studio lots at Burbank. Larson described her experience, “We had a crappy one-room apartment where the bed came out of the wall and we each had three articles of clothing.” Even so, Larson has recounted fond memories of that period and has credited her mother for doing the best she could for them.

While Larson may come across, especially to men, as arrogant and even hostile, in fact, she may well be very vulnerable and feeling victimized at a fundamental level. Her partner Alex Greenwald created a “safe space” for her, but then the question is, a safe space from what? She also is concerned with being judged for her flaws (and we all have flaws for which we’re judged in social media), but the irony is that she tends to judge others, particularly men for their/our flaws.

People who are hurt, especially those who have unresolved issues of victimization and persecution, tend to be defensive, and defensiveness can often be seen as aggression and hostility. Further, she identifies with other vulnerable and victimized groups such as people/women of color (she seems to be as white and blonde as is possible, though it’s really impossible for me to know her natural hair color), biracial women, and teens. That’s also not unusual. Sometimes, a victim will attempt to work through their issues by advocating for other victims, which goes along with her quote:

“Am I saying I hate white dudes?” asked the Oscar-winning “Room” actress, a question that she’d repeat twice more during her speech. She answered with a sneer, “No, I’m not … [but if] you make the movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is an insanely low chance a woman of color will have a chance to see your movie and review your movie.”

She was talking about the aforementioned movie “A Wrinkle in Time,” but I think her activism and advocacy may be personally based, rather than just an expression of her altruism (not that she can’t be altruistic).

So what does this all mean?

My personal assessment (and remember, this is all supposition, I can’t prove any of it) is that for reasons we don’t know or can’t be sure of, Brie Larson feels victimized and vulnerable, and out of those feelings, she has a tendency to be defensive and even a tad hostile in her statements about men, particularly white men, when she feels threatened (either real or imagined). Also out of that sense of victimization, she seeks strength from advocating for other victims and being an activist in their/her defense.

All of that is fine and dandy on a personal level, but as we’ve seen, those behaviors have had a direct bearing on how the film “Captain Marvel” has been received by audiences (and there are some women who don’t care for some of what she’s said as well). These responses have nothing at all to do with the movie. A conservative, white male friend of mine saw the film on opening night and said he enjoyed it. He also said it didn’t give even a hint of social justice lecturing or male bashing.

So here we are. If Ms. Larson’s presentation had been more low-key or hadn’t been so blatantly focused on social justice issues, then my guess would be that “white dudes” would have been just fine with “Captain Marvel.” After all, while there may have been a few initial issues with men being concerned how “Wonder Woman” would come across, in general that movie was very well received across the board (and personally, I thought Gal Gadot did a fantastic job in the role).

Will Ms. Larson’s comments hurt the bottom line for Marvel, that is profits? Probably not in the long run, and even the trolling will likely contribute to its draw, since I’ve heard there’s no such thing as “negative publicity.”

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Alita / Captain Marvel meme

That said, I’d be more inclined to spend my movie theater money (movies are expensive) on Alita: Battle Angel (2019) and save “Captain Marvel” for when it’s released on DVD.

Final word. Should Brie Larson’s personal opinions and social and political biases have any bearing on how well (or how poorly) “Captain Marvel” is received? Absolutely not. What people are forgetting is that reviews, whether cinematic, literary, or otherwise, are based on a number of factors related to quality. There’s the direction of a film, the lighting, costuming, photography, acting quality, story quality, a whole bunch of things that ALL films have in common, and if the film critic is fair and competent, regardless of race, gender, or other factors, that’s what should count in a review.

Having not seen “Captain Marvel” yet, I cannot review the film. I can however, review why I think people have “lost their minds” over this movie.

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5 thoughts on “Why What Brie Larson Says Matters to “Captain Marvel”

    • Probably, though not being a Doctor Who fan, I haven’t followed that very closely. However, in that case, my understanding is that if the Doctor can regenerate as any one else, why not a woman?

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      • As I said in my essay, it’s not the movie, it’s some of the things Brie Larson has said. It’s not that she doesn’t have a right to her opinions or free speech, but how she expresses herself can have a potential impact on how her latest film is received especially because it occurs in the very visible Marvel Universe.

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