Introducing ‘Moon Knight’, the MCU’s first Jewish superhero

The Disney+ show is said to present some of the first Jewish representation that is seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 OSCAR ISAAC attends a premiere for the television series ‘Moon Knight’ in Los Angeles, last month. (photo credit: AUDE GUERRUCCI/REUTERS)
OSCAR ISAAC attends a premiere for the television series ‘Moon Knight’ in Los Angeles, last month.
(photo credit: AUDE GUERRUCCI/REUTERS)

If you’ve been following all of the Marvel television series like WandaVision, Loki or Hawkeye, which have all been released on Disney+ last year, you will have likely heard of Moon Knight – a show whose first episode premiered on the streaming platform on March 30. This show will be especially significant – as it introduces the first Jewish superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The show stars Oscar Isaac in the lead role, whom fans may recognize from the Star Wars sequel trilogy as hotshot pilot Poe Dameron. He also played Mossad agent Peter Malkin in the 2018 film Operation Finale – a historical drama that chronicles the capture of Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann.

In Moon Knight, Isaac plays the superhero’s alter-ego, Marc Spector, a Jewish-American mercenary who is the son of a rabbi and born into an Orthodox family. He is a character who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) – and thus Isaac plays a variety of Spector’s personalities in the show, among them being Steven Grant, a British gift shop employee who is shown to suffer from having multiple blackouts in the first episode. Isaac impressively switches between British and American accents depending on which personality he is portraying in a scene.

In the comics, Spector would have died during a mission while working as a mercenary – if not for Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god that saves his life in exchange for Spector’s service. Spector then leaves his father and his religion behind for a life of vigilantism. Created by writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin, Moon Knight is often referred to by fans as Marvel’s Batman.

The show starts off in Grant’s point of view, where he and Spector “must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among powerful gods of Egypt,” according to Marvel.com’s premise of the show.

Jewish representation

The Moon Knight comics launched in 1975 and chronicles Spector’s rejection of his father’s Judaism, but also someone who has had first-hand experiences with antisemitism. In Jeff Lemire’s and Greg Smallwood’s 2016 comic book run of the character, the protagonist can often be seen wearing a kippah as a child during flashback scenes with his father.

The show’s head writer, Jeremy Slater, while answering questions from fans on Twitter, confirmed last month that Spector’s Jewish heritage will not be altered from the comics to the screen.

“Preserving the character’s Jewish faith was important to our entire writing team,” Slater said. “It’s something that definitely gets explored in later episodes.”

Cast member Oscar Isaac poses as he attends the premiere of ''Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'' in London, Britain (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)Cast member Oscar Isaac poses as he attends the premiere of ''Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'' in London, Britain (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)

This would not be the first time that Jewish representation would be seen in a Marvel project. The X-Men film series, produced by 20th Century Fox, saw its primary villain Magneto (played by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender in multiple movies) haunted by flashbacks of his time as a child in concentration camps.

Controversy

Controversy was raised when Isaac was cast because the actor himself is not Jewish. However, Isaac’s father has Jewish roots – and was given the middle name Isaac as a result (his full legal name is Oscar Isaac Hernández Estrada). He dropped his original last name because he thought it would be more difficult to book acting jobs, but had once lost an acting opportunity because a casting director thought he was Jewish.

Until Slater confirmed Spector’s heritage in the show, some fans were initially concerned that they would not see that representation onscreen – as nothing in the show’s trailers hinted at Spector’s Jewishness. Before Isaac’s casting, Disney had originally looked for a Jewish actor to play the role, according to multiple sources.

Alan Zelenetz, one of Moon Knight’s many writers in the comics and the one who solidified the superhero’s Jewish heritage, said that he doesn’t care if the show ignores Marc Spector’s Jewish roots.

“All of a sudden the Jews need to be represented. Moon Knight has to be Jewish — ‘Oh, we’re watching Marvel! The boycott is around the corner.’ I can smell blood in the water already,” he told Jewish-American media outlet The Forward, after weighing in on Isaac’s casting. “How could they not make him Jewish? Oscar Isaac is not Jewish, even though he has the name ‘Isaac.’”

Zelenetz went on to say that if he isn’t Jewish because there’s a legitimate enough artistic reason, then “that’s perfectly OK. I don’t care.” Before becoming a comic book writer, Zelenetz was a Jewish day school principal.

Regarding Marc Spector’s conflict with the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, Zelenetz told The Forward as a joke that “maybe the ancient Egyptian God wants to make up for all those ancient Egyptians who couldn’t keep up with Moses!”

Behind the scenes and reception

Also joining the cast of Moon Knight is Palestinian-Egyptian actress May Calamawy, as well as well-known movie star Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow.

The show has so far garnered high praise from critics and fans, with an 87% positive rate and a 93% audience rate on Rotten Tomatoes as of Tuesday.

Disney+ is slated to release on June 16 in Israel, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and assuming that all the content on the American version will be made immediately available to those overseas, Israelis will be able to experience Marvel’s first prominent Jewish superhero onscreen from their homes. With the show being part of a larger interconnected universe, Moon Knight will likely share the screen one day with other superheroes like Spider-Man, Doctor Strange or Thor.

Philissa Cramer/JTA contributed to this report.