In the original Marvel comics, Wanda Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch, is a Jewish Romani woman. In WandaVision, the new series streaming on Disney+ — and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general — she is from a fictional country called Sokovia, with no known Jewish heritage.
What is her comics canon, and why is it different in the films and TV show? And could a recent twist on WandaVision mean her background is shifting? Let’s break it down.
Wanda in the Marvel comics
The Scarlet Witch first appeared in Uncanny X-Men No. 4 (1964), by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (two men who incidentally are Jewish). But we don’t get her backstory — and the backstory of her twin brother, Pietro (AKA Quicksilver) — until 15 years later, in Avengers Nos. 185–187.
As Alex Abad-Santos summarizes in Vox:
From a sentient cow named Bova the Midwife, we find out that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were born at a place called Wundagore Mountain. Their mother, Magda, had come to the mountain pregnant and looking for help, and Bova was there to assist.
Magda ran away because her husband, Max Eisenhardt — a.k.a. Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto — destroyed an entire village of angry rioters (European lynch mob number two in the Scarlet Witch’s origin) who fought him and didn’t allow him to save their daughter (Pietro and Wanda’s older sister) from a fire.
Magda left the twins under the care of Bova.
When life presents you with children you can’t care for and a husband you want to hide from, leaving your twins with a cow named Bova the Midwife seems like a good idea. Bova’s boss, a being called the High Evolutionary, eventually places Wanda and Pietro under the care of the Maximoffs.
Magneto (Max Eisenhardt) is Jewish, Magda is Romani, and Wanda and Pietro were raised believing they were the children of Django and Marjya Maximoff, a Romani couple. In Classic X-Men #12, Max actually rescued Magda from Auschwitz. (It’s a whole story, read a summary here.)
Yet, when they’re older, Wanda and Pietro have a traumatic separation from the Maximoff family when their Romani camp is attacked and Wanda and Pietro wander central Europe.
“The first displays of Maximoff’s powers occurred when she was fleeing a couple of racist, prejudiced mobs. In that sense, she’s one of Marvel’s characters who was hated for something she couldn’t control—her heritage,” Abad-Santos explains.
Then, one day, she accidentally sets fire to an unnamed village and Magneto rescues Wanda — so Wanda, in turn, feels indebted to him. Long story short, she and Pietro end up joining Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. In Vision and Scarlet Witch #4 (1983), Magneto tells the twins he is their biological father.
As Emily Cole writes in “Wanda Maximoff Should Be Jewish in the MCU” for Nerdist, “Magneto, born Max Eisenhardt, was Jewish, and their mother, Magda, was Romani; both were survivors of the Holocaust. These heritages played a part in the intergenerational trauma that fueled much of their motivations and actions.”
Wanda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)
First, some history: In 1993, Marvel Studios sold 20th Century Fox the rights to X-Men characters and Fantastic Four.
In 2014, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff appeared in a mid-credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier — but not as the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver. Essentially, “Because Wanda and Pietro are part of both the X-Men and the Avengers in the comic books — another crossover of sorts — Marvel Studios and Fox reached an agreement years ago that enabled both characters to appear in the Avengers and X-Men films as long as the Fox movies didn’t note their connection to the Avengers, and the MCU didn’t mention their mutant status.”
The X-Men film series — X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and Dark Phoenix (2019) — all featured Quicksilver, AKA Pietro Maximoff, played by Evan Peters. Scarlet Witch is not in these films.
Quicksilver in the X-Men films has an origin story not exactly similar to his Marvel comics story; he is an American teenager, but still the son of Magneto. In the films, Magneto’s real name is Erik Lehnsherr, not Max Eisenhardt, but he’s still an Auschwitz survivor.
Because of these rights being sold to 20th Century Fox, “Scarlet Witch” and “Quicksilver” couldn’t appear in the Avengers films. So, Wanda and Pietro in the Marvel films were not mutants, Magneto didn’t exist, and therefore they had no Jewish or Romani heritage.
Instead, in the MCU, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor Johnson) were from a fictional country called Sokovia; they are orphans, and their parents were killed by a Stark Industry bomb. Again, they were not mutants, but they got their powers through Hydra experiments. They are first introduced as villains in Avengers: Age of Ultron, seeking revenge on Tony Stark for the death of their parents.
Ultimately, they switch sides and team with the Avengers — but Pietro is killed by Ultron. This is key: Pietro (Aaron Taylor Johnson) is killed in the MCU.
In 2009, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment. In March 2019, Disney acquired 21st Century Fox. Now, there was no longer a split between “Scarlet Witch” and “Quicksilver” and Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. They could all exist together.
Wanda (& Pietro!) in WandaVision
WandaVision is the 2021 Disney+ series centering on Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), who, devastated by grief after losing Vision (Paul Bettany), creates a reality in a town called Westview based in sitcoms. It’s too complicated to sum up here, but relevant to the Is-Wanda-Jewish question is the last scene of the fifth episode of WandaVision, when Pietro appears at Wanda and Vision’s home. But it’s not Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Pietro. It’s Evan Peters’ Pietro (remember, from the X-Men movies). Gasp! This means that mutant Pietro, son of Jewish mutant Magneto in X-Men, exists in the same world as not-Jewish Wanda from Sovokia. The crossover is happening.
Darcy (Kat Dennings) asks as she watches the stream, “She recast Pietro?!” We don’t know if this Pietro is meant to be the same as the Pietro who died in Age of Ultron, or if it’s the X-Men Pietro, thus implying multiple universes.
Pietro also appears in episode 6, when Wanda tries to understand where he’s from. (Perhaps hinting at the fact Wanda is not controlling Westview.) They have an exchange:
Pietro: I’m just trying to do my part, okay? Come to town unexpectedly, create tension with the brother-in-law, stir up trouble with the rugrats, and ultimately give you grief. I mean, that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?
Wanda: What happened to your accent?
Pietro: What happened to yours? The details are fuzzy, man. I got shot like a chump on the street for no reason at all, and the next thing I know I heard you calling me.
Pietro remembers dying in Age of Ultron, even though he is possibly the X-Men Pietro? It’s all very confusing.
What does it all mean?
We have no idea! But hopefully the MCU starts to embrace Wanda and Pietro’s Jewish and Romani heritage soon.