This article is less about Black Widow and more of a dissection of male vs. female roles in movies, as well as the behind-the-scenes side of the movie industry.
The stats will surprise you–hopefully in a righteous rage sort of way.
We all loved the Avengers, right? Of course right. There were so many reasons to love that movie and I very much doubt I need to list for you all the ways it kicks ass. It’s basically 143 minutes of snark and superheroes and tech, which is pretty much crack for nerdgirls like me.
Also: Clint fucking Barton.
But I didn’t start this post to talk about how wildly attractive I find Hawkeye. No, really, I didn’t. Swearz. In fact, that each one of these superheroes is wildly attractive does nothing to take away from how human, how relatable they each became in this movie. It’s easy to prize these characters for their looks, but they aren’t simple cardboard cutouts. The evolution of the Hulk’s character really exemplifies this, but each of the Avengers show signs of inner struggle, human flaws and weaknesses through the movie. In this, the movie is a triumph for geeks and especially geek ladies. Exhibit A – Black Widow:
“I’d have to wear pasties to greenlight any of these movies…They’re always fighting in a bra, so while it might be exciting for a still photo, it’s ridiculous. One of the most exciting thing about [The Avengers,] is that in my opening scene the first thing you see is my character getting punched in the face. Everybody’s like, ‘Damn, it’s nice to see a girl get the shit kicked out of her…Superheroine movies are normally really corny and bad. They’re always like, fighting in four inch heels with their [thrusting out her chest] like a two-gun salute.” – Scarlett Johansson
Finally, right? There has been a lot of chatter lately across the blog-o-sphere about the complete implausibility of most outfits given to superheroines (see my last post, for instance). Plenty of nerdgirls are standing up to challenge the predominate male-centric themes and storylines of the nerd world. Sure, we’ve come a long way, but the fact that there are entire Tumblrs devoted to criticizing the plausibility of everything from superheoine bust sizes and outfits to their battle stances is telling, wouldn’t you say? It’s sad that our benchmark for whether a movie/comic fulfills our need for a real representation of women is still “action appropriate outfits” and “strong female leads.” No wonder nerdgirls still feel marginalized by the representations they find of themselves in the geek world, even among a subculture that claims to be made up of other outsiders.
The aforementioned article on ThinkProgress sums up my thoughts articulately enough that I don’t feel the need to ramble on about it, but let’s take a second to appreciate this movie anyway, shall we? Guys, this movie grossed $1 billion dollars this week. We’re talking about a movie that features only the barest hint of a possible romantic subplot, where Black Widow not only gets to wear an outfit appropriate for asskicking, but routinely uses her wit and intellect to gather information. And let’s be honest, Natasha has some serious lady balls. Her interrogation tactics are one thing, sure, but then she hijacks that Chitauri’s ride with that tiny ass gun and raw skill. Complete badass. I can’t even be mad about Natasha getting the shaft with that little gun – she kicks as much ass as the rest of the guys, all of whom need lots of tech or magic to give them their edge, even Hawkeye (did you see that fancy ass bow and quiver?). It’s nice to a lady in the spotlight that isn’t being prized solely for her aesthetic contribution to the scene.
That said, it is worth noting that this movie fails the hell out of the Bechdel Test – never once do the female characters talk to each other. It’s not like we lacked opportunity, either; Natasha and Maria Hill hung out on that helicarrier for half the movie and never really crossed paths. Hell, the only time we saw Pepper was beside Tony. Not exactly up to par with the pro-women feel the movie gives off otherwise.
Thankfully, this trend in creating strong, well-rounded female characters isn’t isolated to the comic book world. Over on Nickelodeon, Korra has taken up the reins as the new avatar. She’s young, impulsive and enjoys a good belching contest; not exactly the kind of woman we usually see caught up in the beginnings of a love triangle, but exactly the sort I think we need to see more of. Contrary to the expectations of the bigwigs, boys don’t seem to mind the new female lead, which seems to follow the trend set by Katniss of the Hunger Games. Not only did Katniss start off with all the hallmark traits of most male characters, she ended up with a guy who, in many ways, is the anti-male (he decorates cakes and wants children!). It’s refreshing to see, even if those characters aren’t true to my personal experience or desires. Certainly we are going to come across characters who we can’t relate to, but the world we live in isn’t full of one personality type. If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to include a wide variety of characters.
I gotta say, I think GRRM and HBO have really set the bar on this one. It feels weird to give HBO those kinds of props, but let’s be honest – their casting of Brienne of Tarth was spot on, as was the vast majority of the rest of the cast. GRRM does a brilliant job writing all manner of women (ie: not all strong, badass women and not all fainting butterfly women) and HBO has really backed him up in their execution of the series. If we could see more of that sort of follow through from the rest of Hollywood, I think we’re all in for a better media experience. This isn’t limited to women, either; we’d see a better representation of every race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. With luck, the media machine will take notice.