Marvel’s Woman Problem
There’s a piece up today at The Daily Beast about Black Widow and the “problem” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that she—a strong, capable character in her own right—keeps being used in service of the male heroes. I don’t disagree that there is a problem in the MCU, but it isn’t specifically with Natasha Romanov. It’s with women in general. Marvel doesn’t have a “Black Widow” problem, they have a WOMAN problem.
There are a lot of reasons there isn’t a stand-alone Black Widow movie, not least of which is parent company Disney’s disinterest in making movies for the female market. Disney bought Marvel to sell toys to boys—they already have the girl market locked up with the princess stuff. To Disney, there is no demographic difference between a girl buying a princess toy and a girl buying a female superhero action figure. We know it’s different, but to The Mouse it’s all the same market, which they already have cornered. They’re not in a hurry to greenlight projects like Captain Marvel because that’s basically just a princess movie to them, and they’ve already got plenty of those in the works. It’s DUMB, I know it is, but that is how they think.
What Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner said about Black Widow was stupid and it reinforces the worst aspects of nerd culture as being anti-woman or exclusive, but in the comics, Natasha Romanov IS a sexual character. She’s had relationships with a lot of characters including Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton, Sam Wilson, she has a kid with Steve Rogers, and my personal favorite of her love interests is Daredevil. She is and always has been an espionage agent who uses sex and sexuality to manipulate. Making Natasha a sexy, manipulative character in the movies is true to her roots. If you take away that aspect of the character, she’s simply not Natasha Romanov.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier actually makes the best use of Natasha, positioning her as Steve Rogers’s partner in the field and the closest thing he has to a friend. If you break down The Winter Soldier screenplay, Sam Wilson fills the role of “love interest” as he gets the meet-cute, does anything to spend time with the hero, and then has to be rescued in the end. Natasha and Steve’s relationship, on the other hand, is emphatically unromantic. She’s actually the LEAST sexual in The Winter Soldier, but of course, she does kiss Steve, so that becomes the moment everyone talks about. They kissed! They should date! But they were on the lam and she kissed him to hide their faces. It’s not a sexy moment, but people cannot help infusing two attractive people kissing with baggage. Natasha should be allowed to be a character that is strong and capable and sexual—those things should not be mutually exclusive. But because she is always playing second fiddle to the male lead, it’s virtually impossible to separate her sexuality from theirs.
But the real problem is not whether or not Natasha is sexy—it’s that all those years ago when Marvel planned this out, they didn’t even think to make a female hero a priority. Now they’re caught out, forced to keep talking about this and talking around the fact that they simply didn’t imagine a world in which people would be clamoring for a Black Widow movie. That was never even a possibility to them. But why? She’s popular in the comics, and she has a long history to draw source material from. They chucked Thor at us based on the same reasoning—not the most popular guy but he’s got a dedicated comics following, plus a long history to source. Marvel has always had a strong female reader base, and by 2012, they KNEW women reading comics and watching comic book movies was a rapidly expanding demographic. And they did nothing to accommodate it. THAT is the problem.
Attached - Scarlett Johansson arriving at The Late Show yesterday.