Will Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War end the sidelining and misogynistic portrayal of Black Widow?
In an interview in April 2015 before the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jeremy Renner (who plays Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) casually joked about how Black Widow — played by Scarlett Johansson — was a “slut”. Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) burst into laughter after that remark.
A few weeks later, while appearing on Conan, Renner very confidently repeated that joke. “Conan, if you slept with four of the six Avengers, no matter how much fun you had, you’d be a slut,” said Renner, after which talk show host Conan O’Brien let out a hearty laugh.
It’s a different issue, of course, that Johansson is a far more talented actor than Renner or Evans, having delivered excellent performances in several memorable films like Lost in Translation, The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Her (in which she voiced an AI).
One also has to keep in mind that both Renner and Evans apologised for that remark. But what such vile and sexist ‘jokes’ do point out is the way the character of Black Widow has been treated in the MCU so far.
Black Widow will also appear in Avengers: Infinity War, which will be released next week on 27 April. But there are some very strong reasons to believe that Johansson’s character will not get the justice it deserves in that movie.
The character has always been sidelined in the MCU, despite being the first female Avenger and making her first appearance as early as 2010 in Iron Man 2, before most of the other core members of the Avengers like Thor, Captain America and Hawkeye.
And ever since her first appearance, Black Widow has been reduced to a sidekick in all the Marvel films in which she has appeared. Even though characters like Hawkeye have also not gained importance, the undermining of Johansson’s character is especially important because she is the most prominent female face of the Avengers.
As critically acclaimed and successful as the MCU has rightfully been so far, what speaks volumes about the gender disparity problem in Marvel films is that its most significant female face till now is probably the best example of a token female character being included in a group of bro superheroes.
After all the outrage over Black Widow not getting her own stand-alone film, and after observing what Wonder Woman did for the DC Extended Universe, Marvel Studios is finally giving Black Widow her very own movie. Captain Marvel will also be the other woman-centric MCU film coming out in March 2019.
But this does not take away the fact that for ten long years covering three phases, the MCU filmmakers have treated female characters, especially Black Widow, with disdain.
There is much more to a character than giving her a stand-alone film. For example, the pathetic writing behind Black Widow’s character is exemplified by the fact that Black Widow has been romantically linked — either directly or through subtle hints — with most of the core male Avengers, as if that is her only job in the films.
In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) makes enough remarks to suggest that he is sexually attracted to her. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) even tells Stark that Black Widow “is potentially a very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit if you keep ogling at her like that.”
Marvel Studios was also criticised for the needless sexualisation of the character in the posters for The Avengers when it was released in 2012. She also has some of the most flat punchlines in that movie. Iron Man has iconic punchlines like “We have a Hulk” and “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”. Captain America has punchlines like “the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.”
On the other hand, Johansson’s character is given punchlines like “I don’t see how that’s a party” (after Iron Man leads a Leviathan into view, saying, “I’m bringing the party to you”) and “Yeah…it’s gonna be fun” (after Captain America asks her if she is sure about jumping on to a Chitauri fighter craft). The very fact that these lines require explanation just show how flat they are. Instead of making Black Widow appear witty, they make her appear somewhat foolish.
In The Avengers, it was also hinted that the deep bond between Hawkeye and Black Widow may be something more than friendship, something done for pure titillation as Black Widow was afterwards linked with other male characters.
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, her character is yet again reduced to a sexual object when she kisses Captain America to avoid being caught by people looking for them. Using an age-old and clichéd plot device as a bad excuse to have two Avengers make out on screen is as cheap as it gets.
Even though Marvel delved deeper into Natasha Romanoff’s backstory in Avengers: Age of Ultron (probably a result of all the criticism till then), Black Widow was again mostly seen just as the love interest of Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). She did have a more significant role in Captain America: Civil War. But she was again just a pawn in an ego clash between the two most prominent male members of the Avengers.
In fact, throughout MCU’s ten years, Black Widow’s independent identity has barely been established. All we know is that she has a dark past and is an excellent assassin. Otherwise, it’s a pretty hollow character. The filmmakers have been far too busy focusing on the male characters and how they can be aided in their adventures by female characters like Black Widow.
For far too long, Black Widow has existed in the shadow of her male peers. This has been one of Marvel’s biggest mistakes.
And unless Avengers: Infinity War focuses on aspects of Scarlett Johansson’s character other than her hairstyle and hair colour, this problem will continue to plague the MCU.
Updated Date: Apr 21, 2018 11:59:38 IST