Why Am I Mad About Black Widow?
Well there’s a few reasons…
Under-Representation In Merchandise
To date, the Disney Store UK website features 7 items upon searching for “Black Widow.” Four of those items are the Disney Infinity 2.0 Set, two of the items are puzzles, and the last one is the Captain America: Winter Soldier Blu-Ray. By comparison, Iron Man has 38 items, Thor has 29 items, Hulk has 27, and Captain America has 29. Vision has a pitiful 3 items, and Hawkeye has 8.
Even Hawkeye and Vision have available action figures, and Hawkeye even has a costume bow and arrow set. The others have mugs, Lego, action figures, full costumes, masks, toy weapons, pyjamas, underwear, t-shirts, phone cases… even a football and swimming trunks. Yet Black Widow is given two puzzles? Why no action figures? Why no costume bracers or fighting sticks? You could argue that her costume is perhaps too spandex-based for kids, but there is apparently no issue in dressing children as other spandex-based heroes — namely Spider-Man.
Even in the adult world of collectibles and merchandise, Black Widow is given the short straw. The Funko Pop! Vinyl range previously featured a Black Widow figure back around the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but what happened with the Age Of Ultron one? She wasn’t offered at the same time as the other characters, nor made any mention of on packaging — instead, she was offered a month later, with a much later release date. Clothing is the same — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Black Widow t-shirt, mens or womens, in a store, anywhere, ever… And I’ve certainly never been offered one by my suppliers.
So why does it matter? Not every character gets merchandise. There’s also a serious lack of Hawkeye merch, both for kids and adults, and more obscure characters never get anything at all… The problem, however, lies in representation.
Treatment In The MCU
Up until the release of Age Of Ultron, Black Widow was our only female Avenger. In a team of six, (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow,) she’s the only woman. There are undoubtedly side characters like Pepper Potts and Maria Hill, but Black Widow is our only out-and-out, straight-up Avenger. That kinda sucks. One out of six is a pretty poor average, and what is it teaching our young girls? That women can’t be superheroes? That they’ll only be there to either get in trouble, or act as side-characters, or romantic interests?
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’re given our first decent chunk of character development, not only for Cap and Falcon, but Black Widow too. We’re given sneak peeks into a darker past, a “red on her ledger”, a murderous, and shame-filled dark history as a cut-throat assassin. We’re even given a little more proof of her skill in the way she fights, specifically with the Winter Soldier himself… She uses her small stature to her advantage to gain the upper hand several times throughout the movie, and even plays with her womanly wiles to lure the guards on the boat to their ultimate demise — its the perfect combination of cool, sexy and powerful. She has potential to be one of the greatest role models in the MCU. So imagine my, and many others, excitement when Joss Whedon himself hinted that Age Of Ultron would bring us a greater insight into her dark past. Imagine my near-hysteria when the trailers showed dark hallways and terrifying medical tools, not to mention a distressed and younger-looking Natasha Romanoff. Imagine my ultimate disappointment, when her greatest secret, her darkest, most awful and deepest confidential information was… her inability to have children.
Black Widow’s sterilisation is not the problem. It’s a horrific event thats occurred in her troubled past, which more than has its place in her wider character development. The problem therein lies in a few things. A) That it is, apparently, her ‘big secret’. The ‘red in my ledger’ comments, and really, the entirety of her build up in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is ignored for the sake of a shock-moment. B) That she confides in a character she’s previously had no connection with. C) She is reduced to her ability to pro-create, for the sake of Whedon’s ham-fisted attempt at ‘character development.’ Natasha goddamn Romanov is not her spandex-clad body. She is not her defunct womb. She is not her murderous past. She is not any number of things Joss Whedon boils her down to be — she is a combination of all of them, and more. Captain America: The Winter Soldier finally gave us a peek into a deeper character — someone who has a shady past she desperately longs to move on from, but feels trapped by. She’s someone who finds it inherently difficult, near impossible, to connect genuinely with other people. She skitters between people and friendships to avoid forming long-lasting connections, and doesn’t allow herself the pleasure of doing so. It takes almost the entirety of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for Steve Rogers to even begin scratching the surface of Natasha… Yet we’re supposed to believe she reveals her distressing secret to Bruce Banner, after seemingly fancying him for ten minutes? The fact that she forms a romantic relationship with a man who she has little interaction with prior to this movie is laughable in itself, but the fact she would entirely open up to him in the same short space of time is outright ridiculous. If she were to confide in anyone, it would likely be Captain America. It seems to me, that it’s used as a shock-moment, an attempt to add ‘character development’ to a character so often left by the wayside. Fans are baying for more Widow, so Whedon attempts to deliver — but it’s so poorly done, I’d almost rather it wasn’t included at all. It’s a lazy attempt at expanding her in a short space of time, and it’s a reveal that absolutely has its place — just not in a rushed ensemble piece. It would have had far greater impact, and would have seemed far more like a natural progression, coming at the end of a two hour Black Widow movie — the movie we’re undoubtedly never going to get.
So What’re We Left With?
An under-developed Black Widow, no plans for a standalone movie and no proof that she exists in our merchandising. It seems as though Marvel/Disney have no faith in her, despite the fact fans are begging for it. The Black Widow comic book (which has been running since 2014) is a consistently good seller, showing at 107, 101 and 109 in the top sellers in North America for the first three months of 2015 respectively. At my store, it’s one of my most subscribed to books, with an equally large male readership to female. Twitter is packed full of people begging for more Black Widow merchandise and representation, and Tumblr is packed with fan art… Yet she’s not showing up as part of the bigger picture.
There’s talk that Disney believe their female merchandising to be all tied up in princesses, with their acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars intended to capture a wider male audience — I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere by Disney, or Marvel, and it makes little sense. Disney have plenty of male-centric movies, or movies directed at boys, and have been creating them consistently since the early 1940’s/50’s with Pinocchio and Peter Pan. Of the top three highest grossing animated movies of all time, Toy Story 3 and The Lion King come in second and third respectively — both movies with male leads, and male-dominated storylines. Monsters University comes in twelfth, and Big Hero 6 (a movie which is undoubtedly the pinnacle of gender and race equality) in sixteenth. To suggest Disney only makes princess movies is absurd. They’ve always made movies ‘for’ boys and girls in equal measure; Robin Hood, Wreck-It Ralph, Cars, Brother Bear, Tarzan, Hercules and The Jungle Book to name a varied few directed at a decidedly male audience.
So where is Black Widow? There’s a peculiar myth circulating that female-fronted movies, particularly those of a superhero nature, do poorly. Elektra and Catwoman are often offered as ‘examples’… Let me tell you, the problem with those movies was not the gender of the main character, but in the terribly poor writing and literally everything else being completely awful. The only real example we have of a superhero-esque female-fronted movie is the Hunger Games trilogy — a trilogy that so far, (with a final fourth movie to be released this December,) has grossed a whopping $2,231,359,714 worldwide. By comparison, the two Captain America movies have grossed $1,084,416,743, the two Thor films have grossed $1,082,686,636 and Iron Man, a trilogy, has a slightly higher worldwide gross with $2,378,810,379… If anything, it proves female-fronted, well-written movies have the potential to surpass their male counterparts at the box office, if not easily match them.
The lack of Black Widow, both in merchandise and movies, is solely down to the people at the top. Whedon’s mishandling of the character certainly hasn’t helped, but regardless, fans want more. Why Disney, or Marvel won’t give us more, will likely remain a mystery. All we can do is keep asking. Keep buying the comics, keep Tweeting and hashtagging, keep creating fanart, keep buying the merchandise when you do find it, and keep celebrating Black Widow as a character. Sooner or later, they’ll have to listen.
Black Widow is the movie we deserve… AND the one we need right now.
Originally posted on Need To Consume in May 2015.