On Friday, many Americans will flock to the movies to see comic-book character Carol Danvers, the main character of Marvel’s first female-led film Captain Marvel, appear on the big screen for the first time.
But many others will take to YouTube, intent on boycotting the film, mad that it even exists.
To know why, all you need to do is go to YouTube, and search “Brie Larson,” who portrays Danvers. The first that popped up for me — and the fourth video listed while in “incognito mode” — was titled “Brie Larson is Ruining Marvel!” Posted a week ago, it has almost 800,000 views. YouTube’s other top suggestions and search results include other videos such as “How Brie Larson Cost Disney One Hundred Million Dollars” (1.6 million views), “The Captain Marvel trash fire continues! Brie Larson says WOKE movies sell!” (270,000 views), “Woke Brie Larson Will Lead to Weaker Box Office for Captain Marvel” (46,000 views), and “Captain Marvel DAMAGE CONTROL & ‘Disturbing’ Comments Exposed” (over 500,000 views).
The reason for all this vitriol has been Larson’s ongoing remarks about the importance of inclusivity and diversity in the film world; she has likened her role as Danvers to a form of activism. Despite consistent criticism from online trolls, Larson has been consistent in her messaging. Earlier this month, she told Marie Claire that she had recently noticed her press events were filled with white male movie critics and, as a result, she wanted to advocate for more inclusivity in the media.
The anti-Captain Marvel YouTube videos do everything from call Larson’s comments sexist and racist against white men to refer to her as a “loudmouth blonde-haired narcissist.” They outline plans to boycott the film and watch Alita: Battle Angel instead because it’s supposedly apolitical (even though Alita star Rosa Salazar’s comments about politicians who want to build walls contradict this). Almost all of the videos I watched listed either the new Star Wars movies (non-white and female leads) or the 2016 Ghostbusters remake (all female leads) as prime examples of how a “progressive agenda” can ruin films (it should be noted that the new Star Wars movies performed phenomenally well at the box office, and while Ghostbusters did less so, the actors’ performances were the least of its problems).
The videos are quick to point out that Larson is not the first female lead in an action/adventure film, or even a superhero movie, which is true: Gal Gadot’s turn in Wonder Woman came in 2017, and was relatively uncontroversial. As one YouTuber named Yellow Flash said, “When I saw the Wonder Woman trailers I didn’t feel like I was being lectured, it didn’t feel like a cause.” In the same video, Yellow Flash calls Forbes film critic Scott Mendelson as a cuck because he wrote an article titled “‘Captain Marvel’ Doesn’t Have To Prove A Darn Thing.”
The crime seems to be Larson’s adoption of standard feminist language to challenge what are uncontestable imbalances in the system; by their logic, she should just shut up.
Similar to the alt-right’s rose-colored view of a fictional, whites-only European past, these YouTubers profess nostalgia for a time when films didn’t have a perceived “leftist political agenda.” They say they want escapism (from what?), but because of Larson’s “controversial” comments, they’ve decided to boycott the film to send a signal to Disney. YouTube personality John Talks, who in a video titled “CAPTAIN MARVEL - BOYCOTT BRIE LARSON & MARVEL STUDIOS” wore a Star Wars T-shirt and hat and sat under Star Wars and Spider Man posters, said that the film’s release date “marks the day where we say no to the SJW infiltration into our pop-culture.” Another YouTube video features a cartoon Irishman who blames Marxism, feminism, and identity politics for the demise of Marvel.
One user, Odin’s Movie Blog, took a different path to the same conclusion. Odin said that the Captain Marvel comics were based in “progressive SJW feminazi politics since almost its very inception,” pointing out that the character’s name was briefly Ms. Marvel because she was part of the “‘70s feminist movement.” Odin went on to say that Black Panther and Wonder Woman premiered without controversy and contained“no wokeness,” which is frankly an insane for anyone who’s seen Black Panther to say. After admitting that Larson’s comments about representation and identity fall in line with the character she plays, Odin said that the film must be rejected because “it’s a lie that women are [still] oppressed.”
The YouTube nerd-culture’s fabricated victimhood is alarming, but it’s nothing new for the internet. Lest we forget the 2014 scandal Gamergate, in which many on Twitter, 4chan, and Reddit (especially the subreddit KotakuinAction, which targeted the video game site Kotaku’s coverage) were infuriated with a female video-game designer’s “SJW agenda.” Gamers enraged that progressive politics had become a part of video-game culture lashed out at the women who they blamed for this sea change. The alt-right blogger and men’s rights activist Mike Cernovich, who had yet to rise to national notoriety, advocated harassment of women in the gaming industry, and wrote that Gamergate was “the most important battle of the culture war this century.”
The core idea here — the sense that traditional, supposedly apolitical nerd properties have been overtaken by a progressive agenda — has infected other mediums. In 2016, so-called Comicsgate protested the leftist infiltration of comic-book culture after a version of Marvel’s Mockingbird was depicted wearing a shirt that said “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda.” The controversy criticized Marvel’s attempts at introducing more diverse superheroes into its canon, including non-white, non-male heroes starring in the roles of classic characters such as Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, the Hulk, among others. Both Comicsgate and Gamergate predominantly concerned white men who viewed themselves as the gatekeepers of nerd culture, and proceeded to openly attack women and people of color on social media and forums, all while claiming to be the victims themselves.
In a similar vein, the anti-Captain Marvel videos claim that the so-called “Hollywood machine” is conspiring against nerd culture, and that the “machine” wants what was once simple escapism to have an overt political agenda. Internet trolls forced Rotten Tomatoes to ban comments about a film before its release, a policy change that the anti-Captain Marvel videos say occurred at Disney’s behest to cover up just how many negative comments Marvel was getting. Of course, this reaction is based on Larson’s comments, not on the film itself; the crime here is that she dares to challenge uncontestable imbalances in the system and by trollian logic, she should just shut up.
What’s perhaps most concerning is how easily accessible these YouTube videos are, and how many times they’ve been viewed. YouTube’s algorithms are famously content-agnostic and the platform struggles to limit exposure to problematic videos; as Voxreported last year, Youtube is a breeding ground for alt-right radicalization. Last month, Forbes reported that YouTube’s suggested video algorithm has even helped pedophiles easily access softcore porn-like content that exploits children. The angry-white-male-rabbit hole I was taken down is just one more data point in a dire trend. YouTube freely recommends reactionary viewpoints, even when those videos are racist, misogynistic, predatory, or express contempt for the subject searched.
One of the most audacious claims made by many of these videos is that fictional stories don’t have any function within the real world — a bold claim made by men making 15-to 20-minute-long videos about a science fiction/fantasy movie. One YouTube personality, Thor Skywalker, said, “Fictional stories can’t fix a broken reality... Only real people can fix the real world, not fictional characters with otherworldly powers.” Of course, he follows this statement by contradicting himself, stating that movies have the capability to inspire future leaders. That they’ve missed the point of representation in media entirely, and want to use film to escape a reality where they’re already in power, isn’t surprising. It is depressing, though, that YouTube seems to want you to know how mad they are.