What Do Superhero Franchises Do When An Actor Is Problematic?

Should the actor be recast? In the era of the multiverse, what could be simpler?
What Do Superhero Franchises Do When An Actor Is Problematic?

Last week, musician and activist María Elena Ríos accused Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) actor Tenoch Huerta of sexual assault. In a series of tweets to Mexican organisation Poder Prieto, she accused them of not only sharing a podcast she was on without her consent, but also protecting Huerta, who she described as a “sexual predator”.

“It’s very difficult to talk about the emotional abuse and the abuse of power of a sexual predator who is loved around the world for playing a character in a movie such as Tenoch Huerta,” she later tweeted. In a response published on his Instagram account, Huerta called Ríos’ statements “irresponsible and false,” adding that the two had had a consensual relationship a year ago.

In Marvel Studios’ Wakanda Forever, Huerta plays Namor, ruler of the underwater kingdom of Talokan. He’s not the first actor in a major superhero project to be accused of impropriety, which raises questions about the studio’s responsibility in such a situation. More than actors in other projects, those who enter these superhero universes are expected to project images that are untainted by scandal or controversy. This may be because the audiences for these films include young adults and producers want to steer clear of being accused of putting up bad role models for the impressionable youth. 

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But when allegations of misconduct surface, how is the franchise meant to move forward? Should the actor be recast? Given the current crop of superhero movies is going all in on the ‘multiverse’ concept – in which multiple iterations of the same character can co-exist without any one serving as the singular ‘face’ of the role – bringing a new actor in should be an easy solution.

At Marvel’s rival studio DC, however, recasting is out of the question. On a recent podcast, The Flash director Andy Muschetti said he would be open to actor Ezra Miller resuming the titular role should there be a sequel. “I don’t think there’s anyone that can play that character as well as they did. The other depictions of the character are great, but this particular vision of the character, they just excelled in doing it. It feels like a character that was made for them,” he said.

It’s a puzzling statement, given Miller’s list of alleged crimes is a long one. Last year, they were arrested in Hawaii twice – first for disorderly conduct and harassment during an altercation at a bar, and then for assault after they allegedly threw a chair at a woman. The parents of an 18-year-old North Dakota girl also accused the actor of “emotional and psychological manipulation” and “cult-like behaviour”, saying Miller had been grooming their daughter since she was 12. The actor was also charged with a felony burglary after they broke into an unoccupied Vermont residence and stole bottles of alcohol. In 2020, they were caught on video choking a woman at an Icelandic bar. In 2022, a Berlin woman filed a criminal complaint against Miller, alleging they turned verbally abusive at her house, and she believed she was in danger of being physically attacked.

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Miller hasn’t done any press for the movie so far. According to Variety, they will only pose for photos at The Flash’s red-carpet premiere in Los Angeles, rather than doing interviews.

While DC seems to have taken a firm stance regarding its Miller problem, Marvel Studios is yet to comment on the future of Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania (2022) actor Jonathan Majors, who was arrested on charges of strangulation, assault and harassment earlier this year. Cops called to Majors’ Manhattan apartment verified injuries to his girlfriend’s head and neck. While he was later released from police custody and his spokesperson denied any wrongdoing, the actor’s publicists and management firm dropped him as a client. According to Variety, multiple alleged victims have since come forward about Majors’ abuse and begun cooperating with the Manhattan district attorney.

Majors plays time traveller Kang the Conqueror, the overarching big bad dude of the next two phases of the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU). While he has so far appeared in Loki season 1 and Quantumania, he is expected to appear in Loki season 2, scheduled to release in October, which makes it too late to recast the actor. Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, in which he was so far expected to play the antagonist, has been announced for a May 2, 2025 release.

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Impending releases haven’t stopped fans from calling for a recast – a Change.org petition to recast Amber Heard in the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, calling her a “known and proven domestic abuser”, has 46,30,000 signatures at last count. Heard plays Princess Mera, love interest to Jason Momoa’s aquatic superhero Aquaman. The petition was set up after the infamous defamation trial in which Heard’s former husband, Johnny Depp, sued her over a 2018 article she wrote for the Washington Post. He claimed Heard had implied he was abusive, despite the piece not naming him. A jury found that Heard had indeed damaged Depp’s reputation and ordered her to pay him $10 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

During the trial, the actress stated that her part in the sequel to Aquaman (2018) had been reduced, which former Warner Bros. chief Walter Hamada denied. Entertainment industry consultant Kathryn Arnold testified that Momoa and Aquaman director James Wan were “adamant she be in the film.”

As of now, both studios either double down or look the other way when allegations of misconduct are levelled against their casts. Directors are easier to replace – Joss Whedon hasn’t worked with either Marvel Studios or DC since his actors and collaborators accused him of workplace abuse in 2020. It’s harder to parse what should be done. There can’t be one standard operating procedure when the gamut of wrongdoing ranges from allegations to actual legal proceedings. What the studios do owe, however, is a safe working environment for the rest of their cast and crew.  And it’s high time they begin formulating how to achieve it.

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