The latest Marvel effort is accused of insensitivity by …displaying a cure for a malady.
(Caution: Some minor plot spoilers)
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned Ant-Man is a relatively minor character. (That’s not a height-ist joke; as you will see I need to make this distinction clear.) The second movie in that character’s franchise opened this past weekend, and while it did perform better than the original they still rank towards the bottom of the nearly two dozen titles in the MCU.
This is not to say they are not successful, nor enjoyable. Paul Rudd, as the titular insect, and director Peyton Reed deliver a breezy and self-referential action piece that is mostly casual fun. Oh no, wait — I meant they delivered a misogynistic, and deeply insensitive paen to ableism rooted in white privilege.
Given this is a fanciful lark of a film, told with humor and interesting action scenes, then you just know there has to be some social-activist harridans out there who have to micturate on the proceedings. Cue Kristen Lopez, of The Daily Beast. She saw a film that has a list of favorable demographic checkmarks — a strong female lead, a hispanic in a prominent role, and numerous POC characters, including the main antagonist — and through diligent work she still managed to find things to be “problematic”, as the kids like to say these days.
You could react a number of ways to this kind of announcement. One way would be to begin wringing your hands and fretting over how a mirthful character has done something hateful. Or you could be like myself and wonder how anyone can watch a film about people shrunk to insect proportions or enlarged to titanic size to battle crime in a comic book adaptation, and decide to grade it on societal accuracy?!
What has Lopez upset here is both migraine-inducing in its analysis, and also mystifying in the conclusion drawn. The focus is on the character of Ava, portrayed by mixed-race actress Hannah John-Kamen. Ava is suffering from chronic pain, a condition brought on by the scientific practices within the Ant-Man universe. The technology in the film uses quantum forces and once subjected to this technology Ava’s cells become unstable, resulting from her movements between dimensions.
(Spoiler graf) — The film centers on her going after Ant-Man’s scientific group to acquire the means to bring about relief for herself. What Kristen Lopez takes exception with is that the storyline centered on Ava desiring to be free from her painful condition somehow detracts from her as a person. “Instead of helping Ava find a way to cope (and not necessarily eradicate) her disability, the film seeks to provide a cure.” Also at issue is a white scientist being the person who delivers a remedy, contributing to always transgressive (if not aggressive) saintly white character cliche’.
Before I delve into that rabbit hole of logic, let me first address what Kristen elides here. Ava is searching out the scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) because he was a former partner of Ava’s father. The men had a professional split and her father created his own quantum technology, which ultimately led to afflicting his daughter. This means the film is seeking a cure for Ava’s condition because the film provided her with the condition. But we are lectured the desire to find a cure is a problem.
The explanation is curing an ailing character is the movie marginalizing Ava, according to Lopez. “Instead of exploring a way for her to cope, the film simply conjures up a magic cure and ableist tropes about disability.” It is ridiculous that I have to explain this. The movie is not suggesting she was, say, born with her malady, and is therefore considered “broken” and in need of repair. The science of the film is what has her in the debilitating state, and so she seeks out that same science to gain relief from her physical anguish.
In an effort to remind Lopez of the farce behind complaints like this — in a comic book film — I’ll use her language. The reason the film conjures up what she describes as “a magic cure” is because the film gave her a “magic” disability. Would it not be more insensitive for the script to say this character is imbued with some new malady, and that is how she is identified now — live with it?
Harder for me to wrap my head around is why we get told helping someone who is in this painful state is incorrect. “In the end, Ava is ‘cured’ of her her disability entirely. This is perceived as the happy ending of the feature.” The message here, it seems, is that anyone enduring chronic pain should not have a cure provided…I suppose? Curing someone of their anguish somehow detracts from their identity? Yes, according to Lopez. To repeat, her disability was acquired, not something she was born with. Yet the charge from the writer is the act of helping someone, and ending their anguish, is problematic.
Chronic pain remains a hot-button issue in the disabled community, and having Ava live with it could have presented something relatable. Instead, Ava is stripped of her problem in order to make her rational, quantifiable, and controllable.
The amusement is that Lopez cannot see she is guilty of the very societal posturing she criticizes. The movie is wrong in making one group noble for aiding and curing a pained individual. Somehow Kristen is not in the wrong with her noble insistence that a character remain afflicted with a painful condition — in order to forward an agenda.
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