Black Widow: Audiences’ Expectations for Female Superheroes
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the way we look at comic book movies and Hollywood blockbusters in general. That is simply a fact, whether you love the film series or not. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all comic book movies had their character’s in a separate stand alone universe, meaning other heroes from the comics would never be seen or acknowledged. For example, the movie Daredevil does not take place in the same universe as the Spider-Man trilogy, yet both characters still live in New York City in the comics and in the films. With that in mind, trying to have a cinematic universe where characters would each have their own stand alone films, and then meet all together in one huge film seemed crazy back in 2008 with Iron man. Nowadays, when looking at the intense popularity of the 12 Marvel Cinematic films, one cannot help but wonder why movie studios have never done this with other properties. Some of the appeal towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the well-written dialogue, meticulously crafted story arcs, and the simple childhood joy of seeing comic book character like Captain America and Thor on the big screen.
Even though Marvel’s films are enjoyable, they are not perfect; some flaws become more noticeable with each entry. Most of the villains are not very interesting, a lot of the characters feel unkillable, and the sheer amount of films being made in the future is overwhelming. Yet the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most addressed flaw is the lack of diversity for heroes in the main role. It is true that we are getting a movie about Black Panther, an African king, and a movie about Captain Marvel, who has been rebooted as a woman, in 2-3 years from now. However, these two films are getting pushed back for other films. Spider-Man (July, 27 2017) pushed Black Panther from its original date and Ant-Man and The Wasp (July, 6 2018) moved Captain Marvel even further into 2018 . It is not that Marvel wants to prolong the Captain Marvel or the Black Panther movie, but the fact they keep getting pushed back is disappointing.
When it comes to female characters in the Marvel universe, the character that fans often rally behind is Natasha Romanova a.k.a Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. The Russian Shield agent started out in a small role in Iron Man 2, but grew into one of Marvel’s best characters in The Avengers and in Captain America: The Winter Solider. Black Widow was at best a C level character in the comics, so it is a true testament to Marvel Studios for propelling the character into the main stream. However, her character has always been in a supporting role, and this has left fans wanting more. If there is one thing fans want in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is for Black Widow to have her very own movie. The most recent example of vocal Black Widow fans is when a group of women in Black Widow costumes protested because of the lack merchandise for the character, and also to hopefully inspire a solo movie to be made; The popular hashtag they used was #WeWantWidow. Kevin Figgie, the head producer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has said there was a script being experimented with, but that’s about it. Audiences are already familiar with Black Widow, so giving her a solo movies seems like a great idea, at least theoretically. The fact Black Widow does not have a stand alone film in not necessarily because Hollywood is sexist, but it may be because fans are trying to turn the character into something she is not, a leading character.
Black Widow’s Utilization in The Films
One of the most fundamental reasons Black Widow works among the Avenger line up is do to her being human. Along with Hawkeye, Black Widow stands out immensely from a tech savvy billionaire, a muscle bound super-solider, a near invisible monster, and a literal god. With all the gods and aliens invading earth, Black Widow and Hawkeye are both avatars for the audience because we can related to just how crazy their world has become. In The Avengers particularly, Black Widow strikes the right balance of relatable attributes and strong independence; she is tough, but also shows signs of vulnerability. In the beginning of the film, Natasha shows her competence as an agent by getting intel from a group of Russians and then taking them without a sweat. In contrast, she is ungodly terrified when she is chased by an enraged Hulk, encountering something she knows is out of her control. Black Widow is an interesting character in her own right, but one of her best aspects is how she cleverly works off the other Avengers.
Hawkeye, for example, has been through the thick and thin with Natasha when it came to being Shield agents, and their devoted partnership is obvious by the way they exchange dialogue. In Captain America: The Winter Solider, Captain America sees her as a worthy ally, but he cannot help but feel her constant secrecy makes her hard to read. She is not simply a sheep when it comes to Shield, yet the instructions she is given in an operation are not always the popular ones. In The Avengers, Natasha is intimidated by the Bruce Banner/The Hulk, but she also treats him more humanly than others. Shield is either trying to contain the Hulk or trying to use him as a weapon. Because Natasha is kinder to Banner, she becomes an emotional anchor for him. This is developed further in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where they are romantically interested in each other, until they soon come to realize that their relationship is simply doomed to fail. Black Widow does offer interesting dynamics with other characters, But does that mean she could manage a full length movie?
Super-Heroines In The Media, or Lack Thereof
We live in an interesting day and age when it comes to entertainment. With most big feature films starring white male leads, audiences start to wonder if it would be so hard to mix up the gender, race, or sexuality. Audiences should not hate a film just because in has the typical white male in the starring role; however, the world is so diverse that people want a little more variety. For women in particular, the lack of good female driven superheroes films is an unavoidable issue. One of the reasons may be because super-heroine feature films like Supergirl, Electra, and Catwoman were box office bombs, therefore justifying the lack of representation with poor ticket sales. Because of this, movie studios assume that audiences do not want female-driven comic book films.
It is an unfair statement because a movie bombing at the box office should not be blamed on a whole gender, but instead on the quality or film itself. Supergirl, Electra and Catwoman were simply awful films, and it was not because they starred women. With that said, could Black Widow be the answer to this problem? It is hypothetically possible, but let us honestly ask ourselves a question: do audiences really want a Black Widow movie, or do they just want a female lead comic book film? When getting right down to it, people really just want the latter.
Because there is such a lack of super-heroines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fan are trying to take anything they can get and Black Widow seems like the easiest way out. Don’t get me wrong; If Marvel were to announce they were making a Black Widow movie, it would hardly be the worst thing in the world. A director could do an interesting spy thriller with Black Widow taking down a faction of Hydra, or something to that extent. However, lets ask an opposing question: why is there no Hawkeye movie?
Think about it; anything that could be said for Black Widow getting a feature film could also be attributed to Hawkeye. A filmmaker could make an interesting spy thriller with Black Widow; a director could also make an interesting spy thriller with Hawkeye. We do not know much about Black Widow’s past; same could be said for Hawkeye. Black Widow having no powers would bring more relatable stakes than a Thor, or Iron Man movie; The whole character arc for Hawkeye in Avengers: Age of Ultron was how he did not fit in with a team with such powerful members, but stilled tried his best regardless. Black Widow and Hawkeye are both good supporting characters because they fulfill their required roles to propel the story along, and that is what supporting characters do. So why are people not clamming for a Hawkeye movie as much as a Black Widow Movie? Because it would be another white male superhero in the main role.
To be fair, there are a lot of understandable reasons why fans would want a Black Widow movie besides wanting a female in the main role of a film. The most recent controversy revolving around Black Widow is how toy distributors left her out in a lot of the toy packages, fearing boys would not want to play with a “girl’s toy”. The idea that only boys play with action figures is sexist and leaving out the most prominent female character in the toy line is far too convenient. It is true that movies and toy distribution are completely different, but this controversy certainly puts fuel to the fire. The toy controversy highlights one of the biggest reasons why fans want a Black Widow movie, and that is how she was “misused” in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Natasha and Bruce Banner’s Relationship
Avengers: Age of Ultron was certainly an enjoyable film, but it had the difficult task of topping the first Avengers film, which was practically lightning in a bottle when it came to comic book movies. Out of the many flaws that Avengers: Age of Ultron had, one of the biggest complaints was about how Black Widow fell into three common stereotypical roles often given to female characters. The first was how Natasha became a forced love interest for Bruce Banner, giving the false illusion that every female character needs a man in her life. The second stereotypical role was in Natasha’s past (small spoiler alert) where it was revealed she was made infertile after working under a secret Russian spy organization. This makes it seem that the only tragic element of Natasha’s past her inability to become a mother. The last stereotypical role given to Black Widow was being a damsel in distress by getting captured by Ultron, only to have Hulk save her in the climax.
The third role in particular seems unnecessary for Black Widow’s character because her being captured did not largely affect the film and seemed pointless. However, Natasha being viewed as a love interest and a mother figure works in the context of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Natasha’s gaining feeling for the Hulk could have been by the numbers, yet the relationship they share is a classic Beauty and the Beast story, but without the happy ending. Bruce Banner has lost a lot of people in his life as the Hulk, and Natasha represents a glimmer of hope for Banner’s hopeless future. Natasha herself is willing to look past Banner’s flaws, and legitimately wants a future with him. Sadly, no matter how hard they look past it, both their pasts withhold them from having a future together. Not only can Natasha not bear children, but Banner cannot even make love to a women without becoming the Hulk because of his rapid heart rate.
They are both lost souls who grew tired of their lives as superheroes, yet the sad truth is Black Widow will always be a Shield agent and Banner will always be cursed with the Hulk persona. From a story perspective, Natasha’s romance with Banner does not necessarily make her a forced loved-interest because she accepts her lonely life as a Shield agent by the end of the film. Also, Natasha being infertile is not the only tragic attribute to her past, as there are still many things we do not know about her and the Russian organization she worked for. Should Natasha wanting a relationship or even a family be seen as a bad thing? On one hand, not every women character needs to be a love interest or a mother, and they should be allowed to be independent characters. On the other hand, stripping away a woman’s feminine qualities do not inherently make them more interesting as characters; in fact, it in some ways robs them of any interesting character development. Part of the reason fans were upset with Black Widow showing more feminine characteristics is partially because she falls into a trope known as the “smurfette principle.”
The Female Lighting Rod
For those who don’t know, the “smurfette principle” addresses how many forms of entertainment have a cast of characters prominently being men, yet only having one woman character along side them. True, Black Widow is not the only female character in the Avengers team anymore, as Scarlet Witch became an established member of the Avengers at the end of Age of Ultron. However, Black Widow has been in 4 Marvel films, while Scarlet Witch as only been in 1 so far, so only time will tell if she becomes as popular as Black Widow. What is often overlooked with the smurfette principle is how a single female character, such as Black Widow, often become a figurative female lighting rod. Essentially, because there is only one prominent women character in a story, she becomes a lighting rod of how good female character should be written.
For example: fans were not upset that Black Widow got a love subplot; it was the fact that she was the only female Avenger and being romantically involved slightly took away her independence as a strong character. The female lighting rod highlights the problem with the lackluster amount of dominate roles for super-heroines. The only problem that can arise from the female lighting rod is that it can make a female character impossible for viewers to compare to livable standards. With the evolving amount of voices on the internet, practically everyone has their own perceptions of how to write strong women in film, and Black Widow is an example of how not every character can live up to everyone’s standards. In many ways, for every stereotype a female character avoids, another one will reappear to take its place. Black Widow represents the way we analyze and criticize female character is constantly evolving, with more and more voices popping up everyday. It is important to understand that there is no one right way to write a good female character.
Fans attach themselves to Black Widow because they do not want her to go down the road so many other female super-heroines have gone. Black Widow is also not a spin-off character based on a previous established male hero like Spider-Women or She-Hulk. There is no inherent reason why a Black Widow movie would be a bad idea, but the reason why it will likely never be made is because it would not be entirely beneficial to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As previously stated, she has already been in 4 movies, so giving Black Widow her own movie would be less about expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe and more about wanting to appease the fans. Besides, spin-off films are rarely ever good, as films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides were critically hated. That is because secondary characters that worked greatly off other characters were given the spotlight, and then the story had no idea what to do with them. Black Widow is beloved by many, but that is because she is perfect as a secondary character. She may be a secondary character, but it should not take away how she has become one of the most inspiring super-heroines in recent memory.
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“Tropes vs. Women: #3 The Smurfette Principle.” Feminist Frequency: Tropes vs. Women: #3 The Smurfette Principle. Feminist Frequency, 21 Apr. 2011. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
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