Natalie Portman as Thor is the latest Jewish superheroine

Portman has built a stellar career in Hollywood, while always putting her Judaism and her Israeli identity front and center.

 NATALIE PORTMAN in ‘Thor: Love and Thunder.’ (photo credit: Marvel Studios)
NATALIE PORTMAN in ‘Thor: Love and Thunder.’
(photo credit: Marvel Studios)

Jewish actresses may not have been cast as Mrs. Maisel or Golda, but when it comes to saving the world on the big screen, female members of the tribe are leading the charge, particularly with Natalie Portman portraying the Mighty Thor in the latest Marvel epic, Thor: Love and Thunder, which opened in Israel on July 7.

Other fearless female fighters of the Mosaic faith making magic at multiplexes in recent years include Scarlett Johansson, who has earned a mighty $95 million for portraying the superheroine Black Widow in various Marvel movies, while Israel’s own Gal Gadot has won worldwide superstar status for her portrayal of Wonder Woman.

Portman returns to the Marvel universe as Jane Foster, who last appeared in the Thor film, Thor: The Dark World in 2013. Foster, a doctor battling cancer herself who was Thor’s girlfriend, broke up with the superhero and sat out the previous Thor movie, Thor: Ragnarok (2017). But now she is back and not only as Jane Foster, she will also take on the mantle of Thor, or more accurately Mighty Thor, by brandishing Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.

Portman’s Mighty Thor teams up with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, God of Thunder, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Taika Waititi’s Korg to take down Gorr the God Butcher, a villain played by Christian Bale who vowed to rid the universe of every god. Waititi, the New Zealand-born director who has called himself a “Polynesian Jew” and who at one time used his mother’s surname, Cohen, convinced her to reprise her role as Jane by describing how she would wield superpowers in the new film.

 SCARLETT JOHANSSON as Black Widow in ‘Captain America: Civil War.’ (credit: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel) SCARLETT JOHANSSON as Black Widow in ‘Captain America: Civil War.’ (credit: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel)

Judaism and Israeli identity front and center

Portman has built a stellar career in Hollywood, while always putting her Judaism and her Israeli identity front and center. Perhaps her staunch devotion to her roots helped her project the strength needed to play a superheroine. Born in Jerusalem, she moved with her parents to the US when she was a child and her first language was Hebrew. She took time out from her career to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and chose her birthplace as the setting for her first film as director, a Hebrew-language adaptation of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Outspoken on many political issues, Portman told Abigail Pogrebin in an interview for the book, Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish, “As someone who was born in Israel, you’re put in a position of defending Israel because you know how much is at stake. It’s become a much bigger part of my identity in recent years because it’s become an issue of survival.”

“As someone who was born in Israel, you’re put in a position of defending Israel because you know how much is at stake. It’s become a much bigger part of my identity in recent years because it’s become an issue of survival.”

Natalie Portman

BUT PORTMAN goes her own way, even regarding Israel and she was the focus on controversy four years ago when she chose not to accept the Genesis Prize in Jerusalem, saying that she was not boycotting Israel but that she did not want to “appear as endorsing” then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who would have taken part in the ceremony. Many criticized her for this decision, but she did not apologize or back down. As she told Pogrebin, “I don’t believe in going along with anything without questioning. I think that’s the basis of Judaism: questioning and skepticism.”

Portman, who is married and has two children, has gone her own way professionally, as well. While she is an Oscar-winning actress, she first chose to branch out from serious films and into action/fantasy epics, such as the Star Wars movies of the late 90s and early 2000s, where she portrayed Queen Padme. The petite Portman said she enjoyed getting into shape for the Thor role and the Internet blew up when photos of her were released earlier this year, showing her in costume and flaunting her bulked-up arms.

“It was definitely funny,” she told USA Today, saying that her trainer worked with her on “a lot of really inner deep muscles, too. It was really such a gift to get to have that at that time in my life, turning 40. I [felt] like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m old.’ Now, I actually feel like the best in my body that I’ve ever felt, and the most strong and the most balanced and least in pain.” She is photographed in the movie to make her look about 10 inches taller than she actually is, so she can stand eye-to-eye with Hemsworth.

Johansson and Gadot

Johansson has also moved in between serious roles and superhero movies and has consistently been named one of the top-earning Hollywood actresses and Black Widow was one of the top-grossing movies of 2021. While Johansson is not Israeli, she has gone out of her way to support businesses here, becoming a brand ambassador for the Israeli home carbonation company, SodaStream, and brushing off critics who said she should not work with the company, which has used plants on the West Bank.

Of course, Israel has no stronger public face than Gal Gadot, who shook up the action/fantasy universe with her strong yet sultry portrayal of Wonder Woman in 2017 film and her follow up in the second movie about the amazing Amazon warrior princess, Wonder Woman 1984 in 2020, and she is currently preparing to shoot a third film in the series. She has been outspoken in her support of Israel and goes out of her way to teach talk-show hosts and her more than 80 million Instagram followers about Israeli customs, tutoring them in Hebrew slang and recommending Elite chocolate.

The three actresses are all mothers and Portman told Variety how her kids helped push her to tackle the role of Thor, showing that perhaps being a mother is the real superpower: “I feel like it’s the phase of my career when I’m really trying to just impress my kids. My 5-year-old and my 10-year-old were so enthralled by this process, getting to visit the set and see me dressed up in a cape. It made it really cool. You know, it’s very rare that my kids are like, ‘Please go to work!’ Usually, it’s quite the opposite.”