The Problem With 'The Avengers' Casting Scarlet Witch as a Blonde

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The Scarlet Witch, a.k.a. Wanda Maximoff, is the latest addition to The Avengers sequel. In the comics, Wanda is Roma and Jewish, and fans are having some trouble accepting that the role went to the talented but very blonde actress Elizabeth Olsen. Samuel L. Jackson (accidentally?) spilled the beans on the casting decision in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Fans of the comics, for the most part, have nothing against Olsen and are impressed by her acting ability. What they aren't impressed by is that Marvel has no apparent regard for keeping her character true to her comic origins. 

"So basically we're slapping the name on a character that bares no resemblance to her comic book self ... She's not Roma. She's not Jewish. She's not a mutant. She's another [Joss] Whedon OC [original character]," a commenter on The Mary Sue blog wrote this past August when Olsen was rumored to be in contention. "Considering that Marvel has had zero women of color, and a very limited number of men of color, in their movies, I find it pretty terrible that they took a character who in canon is Roma and whitewashed her," another added.

And here's another who believes that this casting has ruined the character:

Casting a white blonde woman for the part of Wanda, who is half Romani, half Jewish and whose history as a Romani person and as part of a family of holocaust survivors is an important part of her character. Well done Hollywood, you've completely ruined another character minorities look up to.

Olsen's casting also affects another Avengers's character, Quicksilver. They're twins, and it could mean that another blonde-haired, blue-eyed actor is playing a Jewish, Roma character

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The unavoidable question with Olsen's casting then becomes: did Marvel miss out on an opportunity to bring diversity into its all-white male-dominated franchise or is this a more troubling indication that Marvel just isn't open to the stories of minorities?

In the comics, a lot of time was spent establishing Maximoff's ethnic identity. According to canon, she is Magento's daughter, and is raised by a Roma family in Transia, a fictional European country flanked by the real-life countries Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. "An ethnic group that can trace its origins back to ancient migrations from India, the Roma live primarily in Eastern and Central Europe and are sometimes known pejoratively as  'gypsies'" Time explains.

And because of her parents' Roma ancestry, they are often persecuted and treated unfairly— a problem that remains today. The first displays of Maximoff's powers occurred when she was fleeing a couple of racist, prejudiced mobs. In that sense, she's one of Marvel's characters who was hated for something she couldn't control—her heritage. Avengers director and screenwriter Joss Whedon hinted that both Maximoff and her brother might be British in his interpretation.

The driving force in comic books is that these heroes are essentially minorities themselves, and they provided an alternative contrast to kids who didn't see themselves in mainstream pop culture. It's why you have characters like the Scarlet Witch battling against Roma prejudice, Storm, who was a black superhero at a time when black heroes were scarce, and Dust, a relatively new X-Woman, who battles bad guys in niqāb. Staying true to these heroes' identities is important, not only to comics, but to the culture at large.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.