Oh, David Zaslav, we’re really in it now. The threads that were holding DC’s existing cinematic universe together—Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam (featuring the last appearance of Henry Cavill’s Superman), Ezra Miller’s The Flash, and Zachary Levi’s Shazam! Fury Of The Gods—are wearing extremely thin. Levi is the latest DC star to stumble into controversy, and he did so within days of the release of the new trailer for his imminently dropping film.
Here’s what kicked off Levi’s personal maelstrom: on Sunday, the actor responded to a Tweet that read, “Do you agree or not, that Pfizer is a real danger to the world?” with his answer, “Hardcore agree.” This was understood by followers, quite reasonably, as an anti-vaccination stance given the pharmaceutical company’s coronavirus vaccine (not to mention the recent resurgence of faux-vaccine symptom videos and subsequent “Thanks, Pfizer” memes).
Levi later followed up his dubious anti-Pfizer endorsement by tweeting “Just one example of what I’m referring to” with a link to a Justice Department press release about Pfizere’s multi-billion dollar settlement for marketing fraud back in 2009. And in fairness to the Chuck star, this is a drum he’s been beating for a while. Earlier this month, he shared a video from himself on a podcast to Instagram wherein he criticizes the United States’ lax or nonexistent standards concerning pharmaceutical advertising across the board. He has not specifically made anti-vaccine statements, but he has also not, as of this writing, affirmed support for vaccines.
Unfortunately, the Pfizer tweet was the spark that lit the fuse for this particular controversy. As the tweet gained more attention, other Twitter users pointed toward a clip of Levi on Joe Rogan’s podcast praising controversial cultural commentator Jordan Peterson shortly after he had been suspended from Twitter for anti-transgender comments regarding Elliot Page. (In the clip, Rogan deadnames Page and Levi does not correct him.) “Y’all just haven’t been paying attention to Zachary Levi. He’s a hardcore Trump Christian who supports Jordan Peterson calling him a ‘deep thinker,’” read one viral tweet alongside the resurfaced clip. “A transphobe who appeared on the 700 Club, a Trump Republican Christian network that has HATES minorities & gays for existing.”
This, too, requires some fact-checking. “Hardcore Trump Christian” would be overstating Levi’s public political views. In 2020, he tweeted that he was “no fan or supporter of Trump” and “not a conservative,” but shared sympathetic sentiments on Instagram for those who were Donald Trump supporters. He does indeed identify as Christian, and gave an interview in 2022 to CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News, the network founded by Pat Robertson, the virulently homophobic and sexist host of The 700 Club. Among the controversial conservative figures Levi follows on Twitter are Peterson, Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Boreing, and Steven Crowder.
Other criticisms leveled against Levi in the wake of the Pfizer tweet include the fact that he changed his name to sound “historically traditional Jewish” and then complained that he was rejected from roles for being “too Jewish.” “Levi” is in fact the actor’s middle name, though reverting to this name to sound Jewish is unsubstantiated; he said in an interview that his agent was fielding comments (“not always necessarily derogatory”) about his given last name, Pugh, so he “thought and prayed on it real hard” before deciding to go by his middle. He did indeed note having been turned down from roles for being too Jewish, despite not being Jewish. He was also raked over the coals for a previous tweet regarding men leading conversations about racism and sexism. “Truth doesn’t care about privilege, nor do those who seek it,” he wrote.
This is a lot to digest about the guy from Shazam!, and that’s not even the end of it. Sadly, after the Pfizer tweets, Levi also revealed that his father had died “a few days ago” after a long cancer battle. This undoubtedly complicates his decision to wade into the discourse, but the damage to his reputation has already been done. The situation has also cast a pall over the upcoming release of Fury Of The Gods, due in theaters in March, at a time when DC really can’t afford another controversy. How Levi and the studio will respond to the situation remains to be seen.