To say that Captain Marvel was controversial is something of an understatement. In the months leading up to its release, the Marvel Studios blockbuster received backlash from a vocal minority of fans, angry about seemingly everything about the film. It's easy to label that displeasure as misogyny (because, honestly, a lot of it was), but it appeared many people were upset at how star Brie Larson seemingly alienated a portion of the fanbase by saying the filmmakers didn't prioritize the opinions of white males. It is important to say "seemingly," because that didn't actually happen.
By contrast, Alita: Battle Angel, the culmination of years of work by filmmaker James Cameron, received minimal fanfare upon release. It looked well on its way to becoming a cult classic, much like Pacific Rim, until something happened. Haters of Captain Marvel, and its purported feminist agenda, used Alita: Battle Angel as a weapon against the Marvel film. But why? And why, in recent months, did the "Alita Army" rise up again?
#CaptainMarvelChallenge vs. #AlitaChallenge
On Jan. 8, a nonprofit organization called We Have Stories tried to launch a charity designed to help underprivileged children see the then-upcoming Captain Marvel. Founder Frederick Joseph had previously done something similar for Black Panther with the Black Panther Challenge, to wild success. Using the hashtag #CaptainMarvelChallenge, the company raised money for children, particularly young girls, to see the film.
On International Women’s Day, Marvel Studios is releasing their first woman led film — Captain Marvel. #CaptainMarvel offers an opportunity to empower girls.— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) January 8, 2019
Which is why @WHSorg has launched the #CaptainMarvelChallenge to take girls to see the film.https://t.co/Zm0VKAhhlO
But detractors seemed to only react when Larson promoted the challenge on her Instagram. From there, hate poured in; Joseph and his nonprofit were harassed online for weeks.
Time passes, Alita: Battle Angel comes out. Captain Marvel, set to release on International Women's Day, is about to debut. Building off the controversy surrounding the Captain Marvel Challenge, the Alita Challenge was proposed on Twitter.
Take the ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL CHALLENGE!— GenX Strikes Back (@GenXStrikesBack) February 24, 2019
Brie Larson wants you to fund poor girls, so they can give the money to Disney and Brie.
Instead lets make #Alita top the Box-Office on March 8th. #AlitaBattleAngel #AlitaChallenge #CaptainMarvelChallenge pic.twitter.com/8wdOHEHGqr
"Take the ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL CHALLENGE," the tweet reads. "Brie Larson wants you to fund poor girls, so they can give the money to Disney and Brie. Instead lets make #Alita top the Box-Office on March 8th."
From the very beginning, the conflict had little to do with Alita, and everything to do with this faction hating Captain Marvel. While that's the origins of the challenge, it didn't really take off until Jack Posobiec, the alt-right conspiracy theorist turned cable news correspondent, proposed the challenge himself.
That's despite Posobiec previously calling Alita: Battle Angel "a boring mess" in a tweet he later deleted.
Regardless, the campaign drew the support of several big names on the right, including actor James Woods.
Come International Women's Day, Captain Marvel debuted to blockbuster numbers. Whoever pledged to take the #AlitaChallenge must not have have shown up, because that same weekend domestic box office sales for Alita dropped 55 percent from the previous weekend.
"Owning the Libs"
It is important to note the supposed Alita Army behind the Alita Challenge are not supporting Battle Angel because they liked the movie, or its source material. They're doing it to attack Captain Marvel. If someone happened to end up enjoying Alita: Battle Angel as a result, that's well and good, but the challenge was never aimed at supporting the film on its own merits.
The irony behind the primarily far-right campaign to "support" Battle Angel is that Alita's politics are far more left-leaning than even Captain Marvel's. The film overtly criticizes capitalist systems in which the 1 percent literally turns the poor into a commodity for consumption. The film features a diverse cast of characters; the villain is a white man who enslaves poor minorities on a psychic level.
As for Alita herself, actress Rosa Salazar is just as outspoken about social justice as Larson is. She has been critical of President Trump's calls for a Mexican border wall and is passionate about the necessity of diverse casting. Ironically, the Alita Challenge pushed several left-leaning ideas forward in an attempt to "own the libs."
Alita: Battle Angel grossed $404.9 million worldwide, while Captain Marvel earned $1.128 billion. The Alita Challenge had little detectable impact on Alita's box office -- or Captain Marvel's, for that matter.
But Why Now?
Alita: Battle Angel was released on home media in mid-July. Since then, the Alita Army has continued to push an agenda against Captain Marvel. But they've had help.
An article last month in the U.K. newspaper the Independent by writer Adam White drew criticism for pointing out that a large portion of Alita's fanbase was merely the Alita Challenge supporters attempting to use the film against left-leaning Hollywood. However, White also wrote:
The alt-right make up a not insignificant proportion of Alita’s fanbase, and they are encouraged not to speak to '"fake news" outlets about their love for the film. While others insist that a smear campaign funded by Disney to diminish its chances at award shows and earn middling reviews from critics has prevented the film from becoming the earth-shattering smash it should have been. And it’s a murky puddle of conspiracy and hysteria that hasn’t just made #AlitaArmy the most unexpected community of individuals on the internet, but representative of the internet as a whole.
That passage drew multiple reactions. Yes, fringe conspiracies had spread surrounding Alita: Battle Angel's underperformance, but the article helped to push them to mainstream attention. That Alita tracked poorly for months leading up to its release was irrelevant to these theorists, as was the fact that Disney, who had acquired Fox, would be cutting into its own profits by sabotaging Alita.
The bigger problem, however, was that White blamed the film for the toxic alt-right fans who joined after the Alita Challenge. The Alita Challenge had little to do with Alita: Battle Angel. It was always about people hating on Captain Marvel.
I wanted to do this for a while.— hincap00 (@hincanimaciones) August 4, 2019
Tenia ganas de hacer esto desde hace tiempo pic.twitter.com/8FMluYkFbx
However, that again resulted in anti-Captain Marvel Alita Challenge nonsense, with several viral tweets pushing that Alita was the sole film that could stop Larson and the social justice warriors of Marvel.
If there's a victim in this story, it's Alita: Battle Angel. The overtly aggressive alt-right fanbase have garnered the film few actual fans. The supposed Alita Army is comprised of two real factions: these faux fans, and people who genuinely enjoyed the film and would long to see the story continue, despite its mediocre box office.
Hopefully, a sequel can be produced, and give Alita, and its fans a second chance.