An interesting piece of news to come out of the Captain America: Civil War camp recently was also a quite unexpected one: Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard is confirmed to have a small role in the upcoming film. This news broke when her name was included on the cast list in a press invite for the movie's premiere in Los Angeles, and comes our way via Screen Crush.
Screen Crush and a few other publications have (rightly so) now picked up on this as a sign that we could begin to see more of a division between the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the Netflix TV shows. Why? Because Woodard is also set to appear in the upcoming Luke Cage as the villainous politician (and cousin of Cottonmouth) Mariah Dillard.
As it turns out, the role she's playing in Civil War is not that of Dillard, but of a completely different character, and casting such a prolific actress as Woodard in two roles in what is supposed to be the same narrative universe seems like a strange move. Especially if Marvel is still planning to bring the two together, as per Kevin Feige's comments (via Collider) about the crossover between the films and TV shows being inevitable.
So that's all very interesting, but perhaps something even more immediately intriguing is the specifics of Woodard's Civil War character, which Screen Crush describe thusly:
She’ll be playing the mother of an American citizen who was killed during the Battle of Sokovia in 'Age of Ultron'. Her character has a confrontation with Tony Stark where she lays both guilt and blame at him for the death of her son. It’s this encounter that convinces Tony to back the Sokovia Accords that would regulate The Avengers and other "enhanced individuals".
Of course if you've read the comic books you will immediately recognize this character description as that of Miriam Sharpe, a very important character in the Civil War narrative despite her limited on-panel appearance.
For you see, Miriam Sharpe isn't a superhero, a villain, or even a politician. She's a mother and anti-superhero activist fractured by the loss of her school-aged son Damien in the Stamford Incident — the igniting event which kicks off the introduction of the Superhero Registration Act and all the events which follow on from that.
Similar to the Screen Crush description of her role in the movie, the comic book Miriam confronts Tony Stark during a memorial for the 60 children killed in the Stamford Incident, spitting in his face and blaming him for her young son's death.
Though this may seem like a fairly inconsequential action in amongst the grandiose battles of Civil War, it's actually an incredibly important moment and as much a contributor to the way things play out as the Stamford Incident itself. Because despite the fact that Tony had secretly been in support of introducing such an act before Stamford occurred, it was this confrontation that convinces him to go public and really push for the pro-registration side.
Miriam's accusations fuel Tony's guilt complex, something which is absolutely essential to his character development both in the books and the movie. As Civil War co-director Joe Russo told Empire:
[Tony Stark] now has a guilty complex and the guilt drives him to make very specific decisions. ... Tony has a very legitimate argument in the movie that’s a very adult point of view, about culpability, about the Avengers’ responsibility to the world, and the world’s right to have some sort of control over the Avengers. It’s a very complicated emotional arc for Tony Stark in this movie.
And this guilt will resonate stronger than ever in Civil War, because whilst the comic book Tony didn't directly cause the events of the Stamford Incident, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony was directly responsible for the MCU's equivalent of this tragedy — the Battle of Sokovia.
The Sokovia disaster was of course caused by Ultron (James Spader), brought to life by Tony's error when trying to create artificial intelligence. This event was in turn brought about by his overcompensating complex that emerged following the events of The Avengers and the PTSD he suffered as a result of his role in the Battle of New York (as outlined in Iron Man 3).
Tony's comic book counterpart is often portrayed as a very complex and unhinged character, but Disney has elected to cut out much of Tony's alcoholism and downplayed the extent to which he suffers from PTSD and other neuroses in the MCU. The Russos making sure that his guilt is kept cemented as his driving motivator in Civil War is a good move, as it's central to explaining his character development and motivation throughout.
Miriam Sharpe is an incredibly important part of this in the comics, as she shows up every so often to remind Tony why he's doing what he's doing. Even following the major event that is the death of Bill Foster (Goliath) at the hands of the pro-registration side, she appears at his graveside to help Tony reinforce his belief that he has a responsibility to make things right.
It's repeatedly shown throughout Civil War how conflicted Tony is about turning against his fellow heroes, but Miriam's character provides a solid motivation for his actions by popping up to remind him how many children died as a result of the reckless actions of unsanctioned superhero groups. This is a burden he shoulders to prevent innocents from being hurt again, even at the cost of his long-established friendships with his fellow Avengers, Steve Rogers in particular.
Sadly it doesn't look like we'll be getting to see much of Woodard as Miriam Sharpe or her counterpart, as she's reported to be appearing only at the beginning of the movie in a "small but pivotal" role.
But that makes sense given that [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) has a lot going on, and the division between the Avengers is also partly based on the reintroduction of a post-amnesic Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) into the middle of an already tense political situation. Whilst Tony is motivated by his own guilt, Steve (Chris Evans) is driven by the need to protect his oldest friend, no matter the cost.
As for what the outcome of the situation will be, and how it will drastically affect the MCU, we don't have to wait much longer to find out, with the release of Captain America: Civil War set for a month from now. Fetch the tissues.