Superheroes: The Black Widow Conversation

Promotional image of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow for the new ‘Black Widow’ movie. Copyright goes to Marvel Entertainment and Disney.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Most people at this point know about the new ‘Black Widow’ movie that is coming out soon after it was pushed back for almost an entire year. To be honest, I wasn’t super thrilled when the announcement for this movie first came out. Did I want it? Yes. But I wanted it years ago. The timing of this coming out now, especially after they fridged Natasha in the last Avengers flick, felt like Marvel was scrambling to have some semblance of the female representation that DC does. When Florence Pugh was brought onto the project, I was admittedly a little less skeptical. I have loved Florence Pugh in so many of her projects, and I am still hoping that I will like her character in this film. But a lot of my skepticism for this film is because I haven’t been the biggest fan of Black Widow as a character. And this entirely has to do with the over sexualization of her character every time Joss Whedon had too much of a hand in her writing. I wrote in depth about the over sexualization of Padme from Star Wars and Black Widow in a previous post if you want to see more of what I said there. But my perception of Black Widow has changed slightly, and that’s entirely to do with the conversation about her character that is preceding this movie. So, in the interest of being up to date, I want to make a continuation of what I previously said about Black Widow.

Scarlett Johansson Interview:

The main thing that I’ve seen change the conversation about Black Widow as a character, is actually Scarlett Johansson herself. In a recent interview, Scarlett Johansson talked at length about the over sexualization of her character over the years. And to see that the woman behind Black Widow was fully aware of it and how this affected her, made me reflect on some of my own opinions. In the interview she starts out referencing ‘Iron Man 2’ and how she was glad to have the job, but she did notice right away how the male characters were talking about her character in the script. Johansson immediately notes that Tony and Happy Hogan talk about Natasha as if she’s a piece of something or a piece of meat. She notes that Tony even says in the movie; “I want some of that.” She then talks about how the dehumanizing language did have an affect on her and by the time ‘Avengers’ came out and she was working with Joss Whedon, she fully knew that her character was over sexualized. Johansson then went on to talk about how playing the character even made her feel guilty at times. And it’s because of the exact same reasons I have mentioned in other posts. Men in the industry try to teach women that any representation is good representation because we see so little of it already. Especially in action films. She noted that this new movie felt like a way to make things right. She essentially felt like she could reclaim the character, and that’s an incredible way to look at things.

Black Widow and Progress:

Looking back, it is incredibly easy to judge and look down on the character of Black Widow because she was the first. The first female superhero to be seen as an equal to male superheroes in a major blockbuster film. And, as it goes with most forms of representation, the first try is generally not the best one. But I think there is always something to be said about the representation that paved the way, regardless of whether or not it was perfect. Because while Joss Whedon was involved with much of Black Widow’s character, it’s important to note that Scarlett Johansson was playing her. While some of the lines were written in a way that absolutely didn’t have women in mind, Johansson did not play Natasha with that specifically in mind. While the scripts focused on giving her sexy fight scenes and having all the men stare at her, Johansson focused intently on delivering good emotional and vulnerable scenes. While I really don’t want to see a female character sexualized like this ever again, it is still important to note that there were hints of what is now great female character development. Like vulnerability and not being stuck as the love interest all the time (until ‘Age of Ultron’). It was a start and we should give her character credit for that. Little girls saw ‘Avengers’ and thought that they could be superheroes too because there was finally a female character in the lineup. And that’s pretty powerful.

The Timing:

I agree with most people when they say that the timing is off. We should have gotten this movie years ago and that’s a given. But I also agree with Scarlett Johansson when she says that they couldn’t have made a vulnerable movie for her character around the time of ‘Avengers’. Disney has just become comfortable with giving female superheroes their own movies. If we had gotten this movie a while ago we would not have had the mindset that people do now. We most certainly wouldn’t have had women behind the scenes. So, while it was messed up that the movie didn’t come out when all of the other male superheroes were getting their own flicks, maybe it’s better that we get something with more accurate representation. It’s definitely worth it for Johansson to have played her character one last time in a way that she massively respects without the outside influence of masses of male scriptwriters and directors.

I have not been shy about my disappointment when it comes to Black Widow, but especially with this new movie I’m looking to go into it with an open mind. While I’m not sure I will ever fully gravitate towards her character, I have an appreciation for her that I didn’t used to. And I don’t blame myself for not having it before. It’s completely natural to get angry when you are told that you should accept representation as it is when it isn’t enough. But it’s also good to acknowledge the good people who were trying to give the best representation that they could while being blocked by Hollywood and majority standards. The work that Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow put in to make female superheroes heard is exponential. And it definitely wasn’t easy for her to do. So while Black Widow doesn’t have to be your favorite character, it’s good to look back at her and realize all that she accomplished. Even if what we’re getting now is better than what she had then.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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