Being a genius in the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t always mean you’re smart in real life.
Following in the footsteps of Letitia Wright, Ant-Man and the Wasp star Evangeline Lilly came out in opposition to vaccine mandates by attending a January 23 anti-vax demonstration in Washington D.C. The event was led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent conspiracy theorist who has compared vaccine mandates to living in Nazi Germany.
“I was in D.C. this weekend to support bodily sovereignty,” Lilly posted on her verified Instagram, with a slideshow of pictures she presumably took at the demonstration. “This is not the way. This is not safe. This is not healthy. This is not love. I understand the world is in fear, but I don’t believe that answering fear with force will fix our problems. I was pro-choice before Covid and I am still pro-choice today.”
This isn’t out of left field for Lilly. The actress initially refused to adhere to quarantine orders back in March 2020. The pandemic has largely continued because of infections in unvaccinated hosts, so it’s upsetting to see Lilly vocally oppose vaccines and sound science. She is certainly nothing like Hope van Dyne, her Marvel superhero that represents the value of STEM education for young girls.
Lilly’s appropriation of pro-choice language is irksome given that it is never just “your” body in danger during a pandemic. But what’s most maddening is Lilly’s platform and what she’s doing with it. With 2.2 million followers on Instagram, Lilly isn’t the most followed public figure; celebrities like Christiano Ronaldo, Taylor Swift, and Kim Kardashian all have followings that dwarf her own. But she still has a privileged position at the center of one of Marvel’s major franchises, and she’s using it to push dangerous ideas that can and will ruin lives.
Covid-19’s grip on the United States is loosening, but that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. As of January 31, 2022, there are still more positive cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. than on the same date last year. That’s despite the widespread availability of vaccines and the federal government’s dispatching of free test kits. Long Covid, in which symptoms persist for months or even years after infection, isn’t fully understood yet.
In 2022, “normal” life has resumed for millions of people. But for those in close contact with the disabled, the immunocompromised, the elderly, and the very young (clinical trials of vaccines for children under five are still ongoing), things are hardly normal. There is still a routine of masking and mitigating risks, headaches that remind us of the dangers still faced by millions of Americans. Their situation could be improved with wider acceptance of the vaccine, which is why anti-vaxxer sentiment — especially when amplified by a celebrity like Lilly — is so frustrating.
Thankfully, there are also more reasoned voices in the MCU. Lilly’s Ant-Man co-star David Dastmalchian and Shang-Chi star Simu Liu both commented after Lilly’s posts went viral. “It’s so unfortunate when people with a large platform use that platform to share irresponsible things,” Dastmalchian tweeted.
Simu Liu, who lost two grandparents to Covid last year, said that his grandparents were still waiting for the vaccine when they died. “I'm fortunate to have been double-vaccinated and boosted when I got Covid 2 weeks ago. Felt like a cold,” Liu said. “The media needs to stop spotlighting opinions that are not rooted in facts or science.”
Like Letitia Wright, Lilly’s future in the MCU is unclear. Wright and her role of Shuri are rumored to inherit the mantle of Black Panther, which is currently vacant after Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in 2020. Production on the third Ant-Man movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, wrapped in 2021, so whatever unfolds for Lilly’s role of Hope van Dyne, a.k.a. The Wasp, is locked in for now. Like Wright, Marvel probably can’t simply fire Lilly or diminish her role.
Quantumania is going to be an important movie for Marvel. The film is confirmed to feature Jonathan Majors in his MCU movie debut as the villain Kang the Conqueror, who may well be the next big villain to challenge the Avengers. It matters that Lilly’s superhero role is right there in the title of an important release. If she continues to oppose vaccines, Marvel will eventually have a bigger problem than alien villains.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is scheduled for release on July 23, 2023.