The superhero blockbuster Captain Marvel is a perfect case study for how the United States military uses Hollywood to spread propaganda.
The US military is at the center of the plot of Captain Marvel. The film’s protagonist, Carol Danvers, is a former US Air Force pilot who becomes a superhero after absorbing the powers of an advanced technology created by another US military scientist. (That scientist happens to be a member of the advanced alien race known as the Kree, who for unexplained reasons decided to do groundbreaking military research for, of all the myriad places in the universe, the US of A).
As soon as the film opens, it bombards viewers with two hours of non-stop US military propaganda. And it is not even subtle; at the plot’s climax, Captain Marvel changes the colors of her suit to match those of the American flag.
But the US military is not only part of the story of Captain Marvel; as The Grayzone details below, the Pentagon was deeply involved in the production of the film itself.
The cast and directors of Captain Marvel worked closely with the United States military, relying on US military officers as consultants and advisers, employing dozens of active-duty US soldiers as extras. Several scenes were shot on a US military base. And since its release, the US Department of Defense has promoted the film relentlessly on its website and social media accounts.
Captain Marvel was marketed as a feminist blockbuster, a rare superhero movie featuring a female lead. As the women-centered magazine Elle trumpeted, “Captain Marvel Is Now the Highest Grossing Movie With a Female Lead Ever.”
As is so often the case in Hollywood, however, ostensibly progressive breakthroughs in cultural representation were seamlessly blended with US militarist propaganda.
Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson) has two close allies: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a former CIA agent who finds himself directionless in life after successfully defeating communism in the Cold War; and Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), another fighter pilot in the US military. The three team up in a benevolent, US military-backed mission to try to save a race of misunderstood underdog refugee aliens known as the Skrulls from annihilation by the Kree, a belligerent galactic superpower.
Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios, who produced and distributed Captain Marvel, respectively, had a similar marketing strategy with their 2018 opus Black Panther, which was also sold as a progressive anti-racist film with a majority-Black cast — and which just so happened to feature as a sidekick a white CIA agent who helped save the hero T’challa’s reactionary absolute monarchy from a revolution led by the anti-imperialist internationalist villain Killmonger. (There is good reason Black Panther was aggressively promoted by the CIA on social media.)
Investigative journalists and academics have documented the intimate relationship between Hollywood, the military, and intelligence agencies. Relying on declassified FOIA documents, researchers Tom Secker and Matthew Alford revealed that the DoD, CIA, and NSA have influenced more than 1800 movies and TV shows, and had even prevented films deemed too critical of the Pentagon from being made.
This year’s Captain Marvel is the just the latest and most blatant example of the US military exploiting the film industry to generate support for its agenda.
On its official government website, the US Department of Defense boasted of its direct involvement in the production of Captain Marvel:
About 50 airmen from the Fresno-based 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard and the 412th Test Wing from Edwards Air Force Base, California, had roles as extras for the film. B-1 and B-2 bombers; F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighter jets; and a NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, as well as housing, runways, the flighline and a hangar at Edwards were used in the [film]. About 490 cast and crew members with 37 trucks spent about 21 days on the base for setup, filming and tear-down.
Brie Larson, who portrays Danvers, also went to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and met female fighter pilots, including Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, the first Air Force female fighter pilot.
The Pentagon published a photo of the celebrity cast members from the film — Samuel L. Jackson, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, and Brie Larson — and its directors, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, standing with Air Force General Jeannie Leavitt in front of an F-15 fighter jet from the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing, in Edwards Air Force Base on February 20, 2019.
The Pentagon revealed that General Leavitt, the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service and the US Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, also served as a consultant for the Captain Marvel movie.
DoD tweeted a video interview with Leavitt, boasting of how she worked with the star of the movie to perfect her character.
Parts of the film were shot on the Edwards Air Force Base in California. The Air Force News Service (AFNS) noted that, “To ensure an accurate depiction of military service, filmmakers and actors immersed with Airmen from across the Air Force.”
The military was even part of the premiere of the film. On March 4, jets from the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard — which was directly involved in the production of Captain Marvel — flew above to celebrate.
The movie’s directors, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, returned the favor to the US military by doing a PR event for the Pentagon on March 7.
In photos published by the Air Force, co-director Ryan Fleck can be seen wearing a military jacket over his t-shirt.
The Air Force News Service reported that, after the Pentagon round table, DoD held a screening of the film with the directors, which “was held to highlight Air Force collaboration with Disney and the inspiration behind the main character’s warrior ethos: ‘higher, further, faster.'”
Predictably, the US Air Force has used this film to try to recruit new soldiers.
The Pentagon even introduced a fun militarist quiz, combining knowledge of Captain Marvel and the superhero universe with trivia about the US military.
Official US military accounts published dozens of tweets using the film to spread Pentagon propaganda.
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