The idea that Carol Danvers needs to smile more is one that has been connected to Marvel Studios' latest super hero offering, Captain Marvel, since the film's very first teaser dropped last year. Sexist internet trolls quickly began complaining that the hero didn't smile enough. It's a situation that also appears in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film where Carol is told to smile by a strange man, but according to director Anna Boden there's an important reason why that scene exists -- and it has nothing to do with the trolls.
Just so you know, there are quite a few Captain Marvel spoilers beyond this point.
In a conversation on the Empire Film podcast, Boden explained that the scene was included in the film to not only show things through Carol's eyes but reflect the real experiences of women -- as well as illustrate just how men keep trying to neutralize who Carol is by telling her how to be in the film.
"We wanted to embrace everything that Carol was, and I think it was important to see thing through her eyes," Boden said. "You know, I was just on a panel with Brie and somebody asked about that scene and part of why it's written in there is that women experience that all the time. It's just like, you know, writing dialogue and it's what women get told all the time and Brie was saying she's had that conversation with men and men don't realize it. They don't even realize it. They don't even realize that, 'is that something women get told all the time?' It seems like a surprise to them, but if you talk to every woman in the room she'll say that's happened to her many times and so, yeah, just having the female experience be part of what we're exploring on screen and have that become part of the conversation I feel like was important and even more than that, the idea of it's just another person telling her that she ought to be a certain way."
Women constantly experiencing this unwelcome "instruction" on how to act is a very real issue, and in the case of Carol Danvers, there's almost an insidious reason for it. In Captain Marvel, Carol is an incredibly powerful woman, especially after she gains her super powers. She's even more powerful than her Kree "mentor" Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), so much so that not only does he have to nerf her powers physically with some sort of implant, but he uses emotional abuse and gaslighting to control her as well. In nearly all of their encounters in Captain Marvel, Yon-Rogg is telling Carol to control her emotions -- essentially telling her how she should behave and be -- not because there's anything wrong with how she feels, but because if she truly knew her own power and embraced her emotions, she could easily overpower him. The biker telling Carol to smile is another form of that, an example of Carol being told what to do against her own agency and authority.
Of course, this sort of power and control situation doesn't go particularly well for either the biker or Yon-Rogg. Carol steals the guy's bike, and kicks Yon-Rogg's butt.
And, despite the smiling issue being a bit of a "controversy" before the film even debuted, Boden explained to Yahoo! previously that the scene with the biker was always in the script.
"It was always in the script and it's not an uncommon thing for women to hear," Boden said. "I think you'll ask any woman in this room and [she's heard comments like,] 'Oh, don't be so sad.' It's a very common thing to hear as a woman so it doesn't surprise me at all that it was in social media. I think a lot of women can relate to that moment."
Captain Marvel is now playing in theaters.
Upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe movies include Avengers: Endgame on April 26th, and Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 5th.
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