Zoe Saldana Defends Superhero Movie Stardom

The ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ actress has some choice words for elitists in the film industry.

Superhero movies have been a Hollywood staple for many years now and have proven their worth as some of the most financially successful films ever. To point to a specific recent case, Black Panther is now one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. In general, though, each new blockbuster that comes out of the woodwork has a lot to live up to, and not every potential franchise has the power to stand up against the folks funneling out films from an extended superhero universe.

Does this equate to a selling out of sorts for the actors involved? Guardians of the Galaxy star Zoe Saldana has vehemently disagreed, recently telling Net-a-Porter that anyone who judges an actor for being in a superhero film has to reassess their priorities. Superheroes, per Saldana, serve a specific function. They foster a vital world of make-believe for the younger generation, one that can be uplifting and empowering.

According to Saldana:

“I’ve been in rooms with people in this industry who are great at what they do, but they’re absolutely elitist and they look down at movies like the Marvel films or actors like myself. They think we’re selling out in some way. Every time they speak I feel so disappointed in them, because whenever you see pictures of people in this industry who donate their time to children in need, it’s these actors that live in the world that you feel is selling out. […] That actor takes time out of their life and sits down with that five year old and says, ‘I see you, I hear you, and you matter.’”

Overall, the concept of “selling out” seems far too superficial to be applied to such a huge process as making a superhero movie. Sure, the marketing of these films does get out of hand even at the best of times. But there is now a bigger responsibility for these films to actually be worth the money. Marvel movies weren’t always a sure bet after all; the cinematic universe had to rise up from an organic concept and execution that worked, which happened to be the first Iron Man film 10 years ago.

These days, narrative structure and characterization are absolutely vital in creating a universe in order to ensure that the movies actually mesh well together. These elements can also be heavily critiqued by fans of the films if they aren’t done right; rightly so, especially since it is virtually impossible to perfectly nail every single franchise film. Hence, the presumption that there can be no inherent value aside from financial perks that attracts actors to these franchised roles doesn’t entirely hold up either.

Superhero films can tell important stories in their larger-than-life settings that resonate with a huge number of people. I agree with Saldana that children are the core audience for these films, and when done especially right, superhero stories can be incredibly profound. Black Panther is both a story about a young king coming into his own and a dissection of fractured black identity as the result of colonial history. The Guardians of the Galaxy films have somehow become one of the best depictions of a found family of messed-up space misfits, with Vol. 2 depicting their issues of belonging to a surprisingly affecting degree. And although Wonder Woman is not part of the MCU, the film is groundbreaking for a reason; a woman got to lead a movie and who she is with such power and authority and without compromise to her core mantra of love.

Saldana doesn’t claim that she never saw herself represented on the big screen as a child: “When I saw Sigourney Weaver play Ellen Ripley or Linda Hamilton play Sarah Connor, they were my true north.” Nevertheless, now more than ever, children have so many more on screen options that give them the same sense of hope and wonderment. The same honestly goes for adults, especially minorities who have hardly gotten a chance to see themselves be superheroes. Therefore, the idea that money totally dilutes the value of superhero films — or indeed, any franchise — is just far too simplified.

As Saldana says:

“I work with filmmakers who gravitated to this genre because they were exiles in their own right, excluded from a mainstream conversation. They found their world and they were able to imagine the unimaginable. Everything about how they create, and how they invite characters to join them, is absolutely inclusive.”

Zoe Saldana can be seen later this month reprising her role as Gamora in the biggest superhero movie yet, Avengers: Infinity War.

Sheryl Oh: @sherhorowitz Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Particularly loves writing stuff and things with a feminist bent here at Film School Rejects.