Anthony Stokes on Avengers: Age of Ultron, Sexism and Hollywood…
Like many, I feel as though Hollywood has a major diversity problem, with the status quo being handsome white males. Look no further than Avengers: Age of Ultron as an example. Marvel Studios has been trying to diversify the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the limited amount of characters in its arsenal that are people of colour, but the film could serve as a microcosm of what’s wrong with the industry. I think women, homosexuals, and minorities should have larger representation, especially in blockbusters that are supposed to appeal to every culture. But what I don’t like is the pettiness of some groups that take every chance they get to proclaim something misogynistic, racist, or homophobic in order to get their message out, while making people want to distance themselves from the cause due to their hyperbole.
This brings me to Avengers: Age of Ultron, its “sexist” treatment of the character Black Widow, and how completely ridiculous these accusations are to anybody who has even a mild understanding of character arcs.
Let’s talk about Black Widow and why she’s one of the best examples of a modern female character in a blockbuster. When she debuted in Iron Man 2 she was essentially just what’d you think her character would be: eye candy who can kick a lot of ass. So much so that she doesn’t even have much of a personality. It really is shocking to see the contrast from this film compared to later portrayals when she’s actually given some character other than ” I’m hot and I can kill people really easily”. If there was a time where the character was sexist, it was in Iron Man 2, but even then it’s a big stretch. In The Avengers, her character is completely turned. She’s still attractive and her body is shown at length, but you can pretty much say the same about the entire cast. She’s less sexualized and is given a lot of back story and for the first third it’s pretty much her movie. Here we see her as more confident and competent, and even get a bit of vulnerability. It was one of the best turnarounds for a character in recent memory.
And then the Russo brothers went and took the character traits Joss Whedon set up and ran them in for a touchdown, spiking the ball with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Immediately the first thing I noticed and loved is that Black Widow is extremely desexualized, even more so than in The Avengers. She has straight hair and little make up which completely makes sense for the character in the context of the movie. And now she’s even more vulnerable and questions her own morals even more so than before. She still uses her sexuality as a weapon occasionally, but again compared to Iron Man 2 it’s extremely toned down. Her character even uploads all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets, including her own, for everybody to see – removing more and more of the shield she spent years putting up.
So then we get to Age of Ultron and one of the things I didn’t like from the trailers was that she was back to the old hairstyle and now has a romance with Bruce Banner. She’s been a pseudo love interest for Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Hawkeye, and now Bruce Banner. Who’s next, Nick Fury? And then I actually saw the movie and it totally worked. The way it’s written and presented, it completely makes sense for these two characters to be interested in each other. It’s expertly written in a convincing way that makes sense.
The argument is basically that Black Widow now has a definitive love interest, and a particular thing happens to her that is unique to women, which somehow results in sexism. My counter point would be that every other character has voiced and addressed their emotional needs at this point except for Black Widow. She’s a human being, correct? It makes sense that she’d eventually want somebody to be affectionate with. Every other Avenger, even Hawkeye, has a significant other except Black Widow. I’d argue that it’d be more sexist to not to give her a definitive love interest. Why keep denying Natasha her emotional needs while everybody else finds love and surprise, and even a family? I loved the Red Room stuff; it goes back again to her being vulnerable. It took four movies to get to this point where she lets that out to somebody, and it works. The entire crux of every superhero in the Avengers is that they’re teaming with insecurities and demons. Black Widow’s happens to be something that was out of her control, and she’s working on to becoming a more forthcoming person. It’s not sexist, it’s interesting.
It’s hard to write interesting, flawed, female characters these days because they can be misconstrued as being sexist. Joss Whedon is one of the biggest feminist writer-directors, and I wish there were more like him. All his female leads, including Natasha, are smart, funny, stylish, and classy. And now he tries to take a character and develop her and all of a sudden he’s sexist. I noticed a similar issue with director Lars Von Trier, who’s come under fire for being misogynistic, yet every movie I’ve seen of his has a female lead. His problem isn’t so much he hates women as much as he hates pretty much everybody. They’re flawed characters, just like everybody in his movies are, and they deal with some pretty rough themes. While I certainly wouldn’t argue Von Trier’s films are pro-feminism, he’s the only director I know writing these type of stories about women.
For me personally, I’d rather have a flawed female character who is interesting, rather than the status quo eye candy we get in a lot of Hollywood movies. and I’m not saying it’s impossible to write interesting female characters now a days I’m just suggesting that people either don’t try and the people who do are being attacked for being sexist. Nothing else should outline the problem other than when a strong female character does come out, she’s hailed as a spearhead for feminism. It’s never fun to have conversations like these and they’re counter productive for everybody involved including the fans, the feminists, the and the filmmakers. We’ve just got to cross our fingers and hope more people are willing to take the risk and make heroes women can get behind.
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.