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Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson reimagines superheroes to expose gendered criticism

Stop telling women to smile

captain marvel (brie larson) in the desert Marvel Studios

Brie Larson is quickly becoming the hero that we need, even if we don’t deserve her.

Larson, who will make her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain Marvel next year, is already dealing with an issue faced by other women in her position (that being a starring role in a popular action or sci-fi franchise): juvenile opinions from anonymous men on the internet. In this case, a fist-waving crop of petulant fans are upset that Larson’s Captain Marvel doesn’t seem to smile in the first trailer.

The phrase “women should smile more” or “I want her to smile” isn’t just an oblique suggestion from well-intentioned men. It might be, in some cases, but it’s a phrase often associated with gendered discrimination and street harassment. A social media campaign, created by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is dedicated to phrases women hear such as this — when they are trying to work, walk down the street, or sit in a cafe.

Whether men care to admit it, “You should smile more” is a phrase often used on and against women. The Atlantic has this article chock full of examples given by women, in their professional and personal lives, about times men told them to smile, and their reactions.

It’s a situation many women know well, and it’s what makes Larson’s response on Twitter and Instagram that much better.

Larson Instagrammed Twitter user HeyMermaid’s reimagined movie posters for some of Marvel’s biggest heroes, including Iron Man and Captain America, replacing their unapologetic, unsmiling faces with big, Joker-like grins. Below are the original posters on the right, and HeyMermaid’s versions on the left.

Doctor Strange Brie Larson
Doctor Strange’s poster reimagined by Brie Larson.
Brie Larson/Instagram
Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange poster.
Iron Man 3 Brie Larson
Iron Man 3 poster reimagined by Brie Larson.
Brie Larson/Instagram
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 poster.
Marvel Studios
Captain America Brie Larson
Captain America: Winter Soldier poster reimagined by Brie Larson.
Brie Larson/Instagram
Captain America Winter Solider
Captain America: Winter Soldier poster.
Marvel Studios

Each of the reimagined superheroes look like total doofuses as they’re protecting the world from mystical baddies, evil overlords and Hydra agents. But no one expects Captain America, Iron Man or Doctor Strange to be pleased as punch with the conundrums they’ve found themselves in.

Neither is Captain Marvel. She’s protecting the world from an alien invasion. Imagine being the person in charge of preventing aliens from overtaking the planet. You may not have that much to smile about, either.

But Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) weren’t told to smile. They were praised for the gritty portrayal of comic fans’ favorite superheroes. Websites write articles praising the posters and trailers. The only difference between Captain Marvel and the aforementioned superheroes is that she’s a woman — and therefore angry protesters on Twitter and Instagram with nothing else to do have criticized her for not being the type of woman they want to see.

It is a gendered discrimination, and it’s one that Larson responds to well with the reimagined posters.

Look, Captain Marvel is probably going to be at least two hours and, knowing Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, she’ll probably smile or laugh at a joke at least once. But even if she doesn’t, that’s not a failure of her character or Brie Larson’s acting. When was the last time someone criticized Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger for playing an action-movie badass but not smiling enough?

Captain Marvel doesn’t have to smile for you — she’s too busy being a badass, too, and stopping aliens from devastating the planet she calls home.

Captain Marvel will be released on March 8, 2019.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Larson Photoshopped the posters. She uploaded Twitter user’s HeyMermaid posters. The story has been updated to reflect these changes.