Earlier this month, the Super Mario Bros. Movie finally dropped in theaters, much to everyone’s delight. The film has done exceedingly well in the box office, and despite a critics score of 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, fans give it a 96% thumbs up. Despite all the good press, however, there’s one particular piece of the Super Mario Bros. Movie who’s facing some hate: Chris Pratt.
The voice behind Mario has received major public side eye, and not just because he isn’t Italian. There was bound to be discourse over Mario’s voice, no matter who got the job. But extra attention was paid to Pratt because the worm has turned on this particular celebrity. Pratt is facing backlash because he’s always facing backlash. Though once a near universally beloved figure in the peak years of Parks and Rec and the advent of the MCU’s off-planet presence in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Pratt’s a divisive figure these days. Maybe you’ve noticed.
What exactly happened is a little hard to chart, as it follows a looping trail of rumors, misinformation, vibes and conjecture. What you find when you follow this trail may or may not tell you much about Pratt, but it does reveal something about our relationship with celebrities.
In 2014, it was good to be Chris Pratt. While his dimwitted Andy Dwyer character was well-liked on Parks and Rec, Marvel Studios took a chance and made him the central figure of its new Avengers-adjacent property. Pratt bulked up, entered into a real spotlight, and Guardians became a surprise hit. It was around this time that Pratt started getting more vocal about his Christian faith, posting prayers and reflections on Instagram and hanging out with well-known faith leaders like Churchome pastor Judah Smith.
Then in 2017, Pratt split with his then-wife, actor Anna Faris. Shortly thereafter, Pratt’s online presence got more openly religious and while he generally stayed on the political sidelines, he gave off a “conservative energy,” to quote this Buzzfeed News roundtable.
Is Pratt a Republican? He’s never said one way or the other, but this is where the conjecture comes in. On Twitter, he follows a few conservative accounts like the Babylon Bee, Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson (he also follows some relatively un-Republican people like Stephen Colbert, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jimmy Kimmel). He’s been photographed in a “Don’t Tread on Me Shirt.” And there’s the matter of his father-in-law, the former Republican Governartor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So, none of this automatically makes Pratt a Republican, and it certainly doesn’t give us any insight into who he voted for in the presidential election. We can’t glean much about his actual political views. He has a high view of the military. He supports COVID-19 vaccines. Draw whatever conclusions you will.
But even if Pratt was openly Republican in his leanings, that wouldn’t entirely explain the vibe shift. After all, stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Dwayne Johnson have been openly Republican (if not exactly pro-Trump) for much of their respective careers, and it hasn’t seemed to hurt their public personas. And more explicitly, Pratt has earned some very high profile defenses from the likes of director James Gunn and Avengers co-stars Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, all of whom have been very loud about their left-leaning politics.
But unlike Pratt, Downey Jr. and the Rock have never exactly trumpeted about Jesus online. Maybe that’s the distinction? Real questions were raised in 2019, when actor Elliot Page took Pratt to task over an alleged association with Hillsong Church. Hillsong does not affirm LGBTQ relationships, and his supposed affiliation with the church raised eyebrows.
But this doesn’t entirely explain the shift either. For starters, Pratt did not then nor ever has attended Hillsong. He also offered his support to the LGBTQ community on Instagram, saying, “I am a man who believes that everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man.”
More broadly, while Pratt may not have actually been associated with Hillsong, other celebrities like Justin Bieber and his wife Hailey Bieber, Selena Gomez and even — occasionally — the Kardashians were. Most of these famous people have put some distance between themselves and Hillsong as that church attempts to weather myriad scandals, but their then-association with the church didn’t seem to cost them any significant backlash.
And, to be completely fair here, it hasn’t cost Pratt dearly either. He is still one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, shouldering multiple multi-billion dollar franchises with more in the works. The third and final Guardians of the Galaxy movie is on the way, and will likely mint a fortune. While his time in the Jurassic franchise isn’t as beloved as Spielberg’s original, it did handsome business at the box office. Any announcement of a third LEGO Movie would likely be met with songs and dancing in the streets. And while it remains to be seen how this new Mario movie actually does, Pratt’s involvement would seem to suggest the Hollywood studios are not overly concerned about online rumblings.
And Pratt is trying not to be concerned either. This year, he talked to Men’s Health about some of the drama, and was both candid and realistic. “You don’t ever wanna get caught complaining or anything,” Pratt told the magazine. “‘Cause I have so many blessings. I consider everything a blessing truly in my life.”
But Pratt said there was one event that did shake him up. You might remember it. In a seemingly innocuous post about his wife Katherine Schwarzenegger, Pratt praised her for giving birth to “a beautiful, healthy daughter.”
The comment was seized upon on certain corners of social media, who pointed out that Pratt’s son Jack, who he had with his previous wife, was born premature. In this social media-poisoned discourse, the note about his “healthy” daughter was construed to be a backhanded criticism of his ex-wife .
“And I’m like, ‘That is f**ked up,'” Pratt told Men’s Health. “My son’s gonna read that one day. He’s nine. And it’s etched in digital stone. It really f**king bothered me, dude. I cried about it. I was like, ‘I hate that these blessings in my life are — to the people close to me — a real burden.'”
On the surface, what we seem to have here is a case of two Pratts: the real Chris Pratt who seem like a fairly standard white Christian guy (albeit with gobs of money), and the Chris Pratt some people have made up in their heads: a homophobe who takes online potshots at his ex-wife because of a difficult and deeply personal delivery.
But what we may actually be witnessing here is that there are three Chris Pratts. The real one, the one people have imagined, and a third, harder to define Pratt who is no longer with us. Back in the halcyon days of 2014, many of us were guilty of fanfic’ing a fake Chris Pratt who could be our buddy. This Chris Pratt was a little schlubby, a little goofy, but ultimately a good guy. He was on Parks and Rec, a political show that rarely took political stands, so it was easy to turn the Pratt in your head into whatever socio-political avatar you wanted him to be.
Sociologists call this a “parasocial relationship,” and it’s a very real thing in this country. We develop attachments to celebrities and imagine, based on scant evidence, that we’d be good friends with them. So when evidence emerges that maybe we don’t have quite as much in common as we thought, we end up feeling betrayed by someone we’ve never actually met and has no idea we even exist. In other words, whatever the thoughts and beliefs of the actual Chris Pratt, it became clear that he wasn’t quite the same person as the Chris Pratt many fans thought he was.
There are completely valid reasons to like or dislike Chris Pratt as an actor, the new voice of Mario or even just another human being with thoughts, opinions and beliefs about the world around him that you agree or disagree with. He’s a person in the public square with an outsized amount of social influence, and that subjects him to a higher degree of scrutiny and criticism. He’s well paid for it.
Where we come into the picture, and what we need to be more careful about, is recruiting celebrities for a friendship in our mind that they have no say in. Pratt can afford to distance himself from fans who don’t like him. But we can’t afford to keep filling our lives with fake relationships and imaginary celebrity friends. Not when there are so many of the real thing out there, ready to enrich our real lives with their real presence.