One week before Captain America: Civil War is set to premiere in Los Angels at the Dolby Theatre, Marvel sent out a press release. In the release it was revealed that there were two new members of the cast: Jim Rash (best known for his role in the NBC/Yahoo! sitcom Community and his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Descendants) and, most notably, Oscar-nominated actress Alfre Woodard.
Of course, what is notable about Woodard joining the cast of Civil War isn't her Oscar nomination, but that she has long since been confirmed as being part of the cast of the third Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage. In Luke Cage Woodard is set to portray Mariah Dillard, a woman involved in Harlem politics. In the comics, obviously a regular enemy of Luke Cage, Dillard goes by "Black Mariah" and runs a gang that deals in stolen goods and drugs.
It would seem that Civil War would be the first instance where a character from the television side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would cross over into the films. However, shortly after the press release for the Civil War premiere was reported on, it would seem that ScreenCrush would attempt to throw a wrench in the works by reporting that "sources" actually have a scoop on who Woodard is actually playing:
Woodard has a small, but pivotal role in the beginning of the film. 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.”
Several websites seem to have taken the claim at face value by reporting that Woodard's Mariah Dillard isn't the character she's set to portray in the upcoming blockbuster. Why would "sources" automatically be taken as fact in this case? To the best of my knowledge, unlike Entertainment Weekly when they first broke the story of Finn Jones signing on as Danny Rand/Iron Fist, ScreenCrush doesn't seem to have an inside track into Marvel's casting news.
It would seem like a definite waste of Woodard's talents to have her as nothing more than what is arguably a throwaway character. For the sake of argument, though, let's say that Woodard's reported role in Civil War is, in fact, that of a woman who confronts Tony Stark after she loses her son in the Battle of Sokovia. Why would that mean that that character couldn't possibly be Mariah Dillard?
Per ScreenCrush's report:
Going by when the projects were filmed, it would seem that Woodard was first cast in Civil War, which wrapped principal photography in August of last year, before being cast in Luke Cage (her role wasn’t announced until later that September).
It is a well known fact that reshoots took place in January after principal photography wrapped in August. Isn't in the realm of possibility that Woodard's scene(s) hadn't been filmed until the January reshoots? On top of that, wouldn't it make sense for the character after having to deal with the aftermath of the Duel of Harlem and then her son dying in the Battle of Sokovia to have a grudge against powered people? That she would then take issue with Luke Cage setting up shop in her backyard?
The report points out (and I have seen it mentioned other places) that it isn't the first time an actor has portrayed two roles in the MCU:
Still, it’s not the first time an actor has played different roles in Marvel films. Ray Stevenson was both The Punisher and Volstagg in Thor: The Dark World (though only one of those was a Marvel Studios production). Enver Gjokaj played both a cop in the original Avengers and then later Agent Daniel Sousa in Agent Carter. But, none quite to the level of Alfre Woodard, a highly recognizable actress in two major projects from a company that likes to promote synergy.
On top of Gjokaj's role in two MCU productions, I will gladly point out that Laura Haddock (Captain America: The First Avenger, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Tony Curran (Thor: The Dark World, Daredevil) have also had more than one tour with Marvel. However, neither of them have had two separate roles in two MCU productions in the same year and, as is noted, neither of them are of the same stature as Woodard.
It would appear that the ScreenCrush article was nothing more than a way to perpetuate the mindset that the MCU is fractured, that there's an unwritten rule that neither the characters of the films and shows shall meet.
It may seem weird to cast an Oscar-nominated actress to play two separate roles within the Marvel universe, but this may speak to the growing divide between Marvel Studios and Marvel TV. Despite actors’ willingness to appear across platforms, the crossovers from film to TV have been limited since Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2014.
The distance, both literal and figurative, between the two departments has grown ever since Marvel Studios crawled out from underneath the thumb of Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, moving to the Disney studio lot on Burbank and reporting directly to Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn.
Many times I have come across people claiming that they aren't allowed to mention any of the Avengers' names on either Daredevil or Jessica Jones, using Jessica Jones' choice of words in referring to Captain America and the Hulk ("the flag-waiver" and "the green guy" respectively) as evidence of that, or Joss Whedon's disgruntled opinions. People often seem to either forget or blatantly ignore the fact that Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, has long since maintained that the films and TV shows will crossover.
Up until this point it has been easy to say that Captain America didn't show up in Hell's Kitchen to help Daredevil take on the Hand was because the two characters crossing over didn't serve the story. When you look at the comics each character has their own title and don't need to rely on other superheroes to move the story along.
This is where I believe the MCU will come to a crossroads, with Alfre Woodard.
Woodard is either playing Mariah Dillard, local Harlem politician who lost her son in the Battle of Sokovia, marking the first time a character from the television side of the MCU will appear in the films, or she's playing a completely separate character who lost her son in the Battle of Sokovia, proving the naysayers right when they say the shows and films are too separate to be one universe. I can't imagine that Marvel would drop the ball so spectacularly by going down the latter road. It is a perfect time to take a stand once and for all by tying everything together.