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Why Did Eternals Feature Gender-Swapped Characters?

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When Marvel’s “Eternals” comes out next month, comic book fans are going to notice two big changes about Disney’s newest superhero team, compared to the original source material: Two of the main characters, Ajak and Sprite, are going to have different genders — with them being played by actors Salma Hayek and Lia McHugh, respectively. Both were originally male in the main timeline of the comics.

In the months leading up to the “Eternals” release, many people speculated on what prompted Marvel Studios to swap the genders of these characters, especially Ajak — who is the leader of the Eternals group – with many speculating, in one way or another, that it was done simply make a point.

Read this: Salma Hayek As Ajak In Eternals: “Different Relationship With Each One”

However, the film’s director, Chloé Zhao, the cast, and even Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige all insist that the reasoning behind these changes was far more natural than that. The group spoke about the decision on Tuesday, October 19, during a global press conference ahead of the “Eternals” release, and here’s what they said.

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Kevin Feige
Kevin Feige

The gender-swapped characters were a conscious choice

When “Eternals” director Chloé Zhao made the decision to helm the film, she said Tuesday that Marvel had already decided to take the Ajak and Sprite characters in a different direction.

“When I came to the process at the beginning I read a treatment that I believe Kevin made and the team at Marvel Studios put together and those decisions were made,” Zhao explained. “It wasn’t just, ‘Oh let’s swap a bunch of characters,’ it was very specifically chosen — like the leader of the team [Ajak] to be a mother figure, you know? It was a very easy decision we made on purpose.”

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Marvel boss Kevin Feige recalled how producer Nate Moore approached him during the early developmental stages of “Eternals” with a more realistic and contemporary vision of Earth’s oldest protectors. “As Nate was advocating for this project, [he said] you can’t do this history of humanity without the heroes looking like a cross-section of humanity,” Feige remembered, “and that was really what the goal was.”

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Read this: What Superpower Do Eternals Have That Avengers Don’t?

Actor Kumail Nanjiani, who portrays Kingo, also chimed in on the discussion Tuesday, saying that the way Marvel approached the gender-swapping was very inspiring. “It wasn’t as if to make a point, it’s as if to say, ‘This is how things should always have been,'” Nanjiani said. “It felt extremely natural.”

Marvel’s “Eternals” opens in theaters on November 5.

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