Remember, just a couple of weeks ago, when I talked about how exhausting controversy is? Well, I’m still spent, because there’s just no let-up to it. Just when I think we’ve put one controversy to bed, another rears its ugly head and we’re forced to reckon with it.
This week, it’s more nonsense about vaccinations, and how people wanting to exercise their right to police their own bodies should also have the right to not be vilified for refusing the COVID vaccine. This vocal minority has been around since the pandemic started, but more and more celebrities are using their public platforms to reignite the conversation and bring more attention to it while making spectacles of themselves in the process.
Then again, perhaps that’s the point.
There’s a reason I’m writing about it this week. This new, disturbing trend of celebrities trying to talk people out of doing the best thing for themselves in an ongoing battle against the greatest health-related scourge we’ve faced in a century has turned into a headache for one particular company — Marvel. Kevin Feige‘s magic kingdom has now had to deal with two very public instances of its actors taking an anti-vax stance, and at least one more that’s going to take shape over the next few weeks as we approach the Academy Awards ceremony on March 27.
It all started last fall with Letitia Wright, who reportedly refused to get a COVID vaccination and, in so doing, threatened the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever shoot. She hurt her shoulder on set, returned home to England for several months to recuperate, and there was a real concern that the U.S. would not allow her back into the country, thus potentially throwing the sequel’s production into further disarray. On top of that, she shared a video that questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine, which earned her a healthy amount of scorn from the public.
Wright quickly backtracked about the video and apologized for sharing it, though in sharing the video in the first place, she fell back on the now-cliché claim that, by not conforming to popular opinions and asking questions and thinking for yourself, “you get canceled.” Because spreading misinformation has nothing to do with it, obviously, if you’re just “asking questions.”
Asking questions without providing concrete answers is the height of intellectual cowardice. It’s employed consistently by pundits who care only about stirring things up and garnering ratings but does exactly nothing for actual discourse. “I’m just asking questions” also shows remarkable laziness and a lack of respect for anyone else in the conversation, because you’re essentially saying that the answers are meaningless, as it’s only the questions that matter.
It’s the same trap that Evangeline Lilly has now fallen into. After posting on Instagram from the January anti-vax protest at which Robert F. Kennedy Jr. compared America’s vaccination policies to the Holocaust, she followed it up the other day with a new problematic post. This one came after the Canadian and American economies were driven to crisis because of the recent trucker protest, when she released a video in which she asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet with the protesters, regardless of the misinformation they’ve spread or the conspiratorial lies they’ve told. Never mind that the now dispersed and arrested protesters represented a tiny fraction of Canadians, and even a small percentage of truckers, most of whom are vaccinated.
The Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania star felt that the conversation would “bring people together,” but what it would really do is legitimize the illegitimate. Still, it hasn’t stopped her from “asking questions” that are meant to provoke despite her claims of wanting to unite people.
The Academy Awards will require attendees and nominees to be vaccinated, but not presenters. I have no idea why this differentiation is being made considering they’ll all be sharing the same stage, though it might have something to do with last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya not being vaccinated, and the reluctance to exclude him from the proceedings.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to be bending over backward to sidestep controversy here, and I suppose we’ll see where this gets the embattled org, which has found itself under fire for other reasons this week, but regardless of who we do or do not see at the Dolby on Oscar night, it won’t change the fact that three different Marvel stars are embroiled in this vaccination nonsense. I’m not saying that people who play superheroes need to be perfect human beings without a flaw or a fault, but I do think that doing and saying things that might bring harm to others is probably not the best look.
For the record, no one is forcing anybody to get vaccinated. Though vaccinations are more likely than not a requirement for inclusion in certain professional and social arenas, the choice still rests with the individual. Tennis player Novak Djokovic was not allowed to play in the Australian Open last month because of his refusal to get the jab, but that was his choice. He ended up leaving the country and not playing in the tournament, rather than submit to an injection. Again, his choice.
Most public school systems require children to be properly vaccinated to attend, and while there is an increasing number of parents who reject this requirement, there is still no one holding their children down and sticking them with needles. That, too, is a choice.
You can choose to not be included, not be employed, not have your child go to school, all because you’re putting your own convenience over the public good. It’s indisputable that COVID vaccines have not only helped people, but they have also brought us ever closer to the disease being endemic, something to live with, like the flu, rather than the society-crippling pandemic we’ve endures thus far.
I’m all for free speech, and even if I don’t agree with your opinion, I will defend your right to voice it. However, yelling fire in a crowded theater is something else entirely, and the misinformation being spread by those who employ both the “free speech” and “cancel culture” defenses most certainly falls under that category.
Some actors — the same ones who say they need to do “more research” about the situation rather than trust the medical professionals who literally do this for a living — have taken to using fake vaccination cards to evade the issue altogether, because of course that’s never going to catch up with them. Just be sure to spell “Pfizer” and “Moderna” correctly, I guess.
Marvel’s real issue here is one of public relations, and it’s an issue only because Marvel strives to avoid bad press of any kind, or do you not recall just how apoplectic Feige was at being even remotely connected to Disney’s foolish pissing contest with Scarlett Johansson over money? The notion that not one, not two, but three of Marvel’s actors — and conceivably even more — are now embroiled in the worst kind of controversy has to have Feige losing sleep at night.
What’s the answer? Well, Kaluuya is certainly not broadcasting his views, and Wright has been pretty quiet since she healed up and was able to reenter the country to finish the Black Panther shoot. Did she get vaccinated? She has not confirmed it, but considering that rules require all non-immigrant, non-citizen air travelers to the U.S. to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination status before boarding a plane, it’s not a huge leap to assume that she took the jab. Though we all know how easy it would be for a well-connected celebrity working for one of the world’s largest corporations to find a way around said requirement, not to cast any aspersions.
Lilly, of course, is a bit different. She is being much more vocal about the issue, with no indication that she has any intention of stopping. It’s reasonable to question what Feige and Marvel can and will do about it, if anything, and whether they have a plan in place if more MCU stars start expressing similar sentiments about the life-saving vaccines in this country. Knowing what I do about Feige, who has long been Marvel’s decisive, respected leader, I suspect he has an answer, and it’s one we’ll be hearing soon.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.