Wanda Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch, has become one of the more popular characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans are drawn to the Scarlet Witch’s complexity, sheer power, and the pain she has since grown past — or has she? The Scarlet Witch has always been a very interesting character since her debut with her brother Pietro Maximoff (also known as Quicksilver) as a part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in X-Men#4 (March 1964).
There was a bit of initial discourse surrounding the new Disney+ streaming series Hawkeye and how its Christmas backdrop is an act of anti-Semitism. It’s helpful to remember that while inclusion of all holiday celebrations is important, Marvel Studios’ use of Christmas is very clearly represented as a capitalist holiday, not a secular holiday.
Marvel has always made efforts to create comic book characters and stories that reflect the world we live in. However, some character changes in the MCU films feel like a big step backwards — almost devolving from the aforementioned efforts that the comic book giant once heralded. While concerns about anti-Semitism in the MCU is valid, it seems to be directed at the wrong character and storyline. Instead of looking at Hawkeye, let’s take a look at the Scarlet Witch (also known as Wanda Maximoff).
Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are canonically Romani-Jewish
From a sentient cow named Bova the Midwife, we find out that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were born at a place called Wundagore Mountain. Their mother, Magda, had come to the mountain pregnant and looking for help, and Bova was there to assist. Magda ran away because her husband, Max Eisenhardt — also known as Erik Lehnsherr (also known as X-Men’s Magneto) — destroyed an entire village of angry rioters who fought him and didn’t allow him to save their daughter (Pietro and Wanda’s older sister) from a fire. Magda left the twins under the care of Bova. Bova’s boss, a being called the High Evolutionary, eventually places Wanda and Pietro under the care of the Maximoffs.
Magneto (Max Eisenhardt) is Jewish, Magda is Romani, and Wanda and Pietro were raised believing they were the children of Django and Marjya Maximoff, a Romani couple. In Classic X-Men #12, Magneto actually rescued Magda from Auschwitz (yes, that Auschwitz). Again, their Romani and Jewish roots play a huge role in the characters’ arc and development because it’s one of the main reasons these characters get treated so poorly thoughout their storylines. The ostracization they face because of their mutant status and their heritage pushes them into a dark and lonely headspace, which informs their actions and their motives in the comics. The Maximoff twins’ pain — the pain that creates the complexity and power that draws us in — is a direct result of their marginalized heritage.
What’s wrong with the MCU version
We are so used to seeing Marvel Studios tweak character storylines in the past, so why does this matter? Well, for starters, let’s just talk about how the Maximoff twins got their powers in the MCU. Unlike the comic books, they were not mutants, but they got their powers through Hydra experiments — which they had mentioned they volunteered for (in Avengers: Age of Ultron) as a means to amplify their chances for revenge against Stark Industries, the manufacturer of the bomb that killed their parents. Hydra was a subsidiary of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the brain child of the Nazi maniac Red Skull.
It’s one thing to change the backstory of your characters but it’s a whole different (and wildly offensive) thing to erase a character’s ethnicity and replace it with the ethnicity’s violent oppressor. Again, Marvel’s comic books have always championed diversity and inclusion (granted, with some mistakes along the way) and Wanda Maximoff’s involvement with the X-Men had everything to do with the mistreatment she experienced for the two things she simply couldn’t control — her ethnicity and her mutant powers.
It’s unclear if Marvel Studios plans on addressing this backstory erasure by retconning any blemishes from the 20th Century Fox X-Men franchise and the early representations of Wanda and Pietro Maximoff in the MCU. As of now, it seems relatively unlikely seeing as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch is under a fandom microscope after WandaVision and has become a central character in the MCU’s Phase Four with the upcoming 2022 film, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
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