A New Conversation about Females and Superhero Movies

This past weekend, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of the most anticipated films of the year, opened nationwide in theaters. Seeing as this film’s release is such a huge deal, the cast has been doing an intensive press tour, one that’s made for a month of entertainment. There was a full episode of Jimmy Fallon featuring the movie’s lovely cast, a number of amusing interviews, and more of one of my favorite things, The Chris Evans Boob Grab. Of course, as one might expect when a superhero movie is released, there’s a lot of talk around the representation of women in the films. The topic is finally getting some coverage in the media, even in the press tour – some positive changes are happening! The flipside is true as well, and sometimes the age-old sexist tropes and stereotypes have been perpetuated throughout the tour. Today’s post is going to take a look at the highs and lows of the tour so far, as there seems to be more consideration of sexism and representation than in any other Marvel press junket to date.

The Highs: 

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Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo’s Flipped Interview

One of the greatest interviews featuring the Avengers cast is the Cosmopolitan interview featuring Mark Ruffalo and Scarlet Johansson that highlights how differently the media treats men and women during interviews. The push to “Ask Her More” is nothing new; in fact it’s actually something I talked about during the peak of awards season. As Johansson puts it, her male colleagues receive “the existential questions”, while she receives the “rabbit food questions”. This time, Johansson received the harder hitting questions on topics such as her stunt work and her favorite things about her character, Black Widow. Ruffalo, on the other hand, was asked about what he was wearing to the evening’s premiere and what kind of workout routine he used to look good in his Hulk costume.

The results are as comical as you might expect, but it really says something about our culture if a woman’s answers to this question seem completely natural, yet when a male is asked the same things, his answers are funny. This is likely because the answers are seen as emasculating and therefore, funny. Hopefully now that we’re talking so much about this problem, it won’t be long before the media asks women the kind s of questions Johansson received during this interview without needing any encouragement.

Mark Ruffalo’s Epic Tweet

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One thing I adore about Mark Ruffalo is that he strikes me as a male who gets men’s role in feminism and why it’s so important. Last week, he called Marvel out on the lack of women on their merchandise via Twitter. He tweeted at the brand, asking for more Black Widow merchandise because his nieces and daughters can’t find merchandise featuring female superheroes. I have yet to see the company respond, but I’m so happy to see that high profile celebrities, particularly males who are involved in the production, are speaking up about the lack of merchandise available for young girls.

Walk into any Disney Store, Target, or other store that sells Disney, Star Wars, or Marvel merchandise and all the male heroes are readily available. However, try to find characters like Black Widow, Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy, or Princess Leia, it’s near impossible. It’s even hard to find merchandise with these female characters featured in “group merchandise”. For example, I recently found what appeared to be an extremely cool Star Wars shirt at the Disney Store. I was ready to buy it, but then I noticed that Han, Chewie, Luke, R2-D2, Darth Vader, and even Obi-Wan Kenobi were all featured, but Leia was nowhere to be seen. I put that shirt away pretty fast. Marvel merch is the exact same way. If you want females featured on official Disney merchandise, you’re only in luck if you’re looking for the Disney princess line-up.

While I know Ruffalo’s single tweet won’t makeover the face of Marvel merchandise, but it will get people talking and Marvel will see that they have female fans that want their needs met just as much as male fans. Social media is a much more powerful platform for change than some may think. Looking at a past example, when Marvel released its timeline of films that are going to be released in the next few years, fans were disappointed to see that there was a lack of female-led films. Now, we have a Captain Marvel and potentially a Black Widow movie. Is it enough? Certainly not. However, it’s steps in the right direction, which is a good start.

The Glaring Low

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I’m choosing to look at only one particular low point, simply for length’s sake. However, it’s one that made major waves among many of Marvel’s feminist fans. During one particular interview, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans were asked about Black Widow and the fact that, by the media’s observations, the character has flirted with a number of the Avengers. Well, one of them make a joke that many interpreted as slut shaming.

It was upsetting to a lot of fans since everyone wants to think their favorite celebrities are above that kind of behavior. I absolutely adore Chris Evans, so I was pretty disappointed and to be honest, in a bit of disbelief when I heard. Thankfully, there was enough of a push from fans to apologize, calling out the comment as sexist. Both Evans and Renner apologized, saying that it was meant to be a joke and they never meant to offend.

I’m glad that both actors apologized and I think this situation demonstrates larger scale problems in our society that need to be dealt with. First of all, I think this shows that we need to acknowledge that there is a lot of learning to do. I honestly believe that neither actor said what they did with the intention of offending anyone and I don’t think they meant to slut shame the character. Society really does make it seem ok to make slut jokes, even though there are a growing number of us that know it isn’t.

Branching off of that problem, social justice conscious fans need to realize that not everyone is as aware of “problematic” behavior. Quite literally everyone is problematic in some way. The number of bloggers I saw ready to denounce their love for these actors because of this one little slip up was enormous and I think it’s a problem. If people aren’t aware of the mistakes that they’re making, how are they ever going to learn? They won’t, and sexist, racist, and whatever other problematic behaviors you can imagine will continue. If we take these times to gently say, hey you’ve made a little mistake; the people making problematic statements might actually change their behavior because they now know better. That’s how we’re going to move forward.

Because I don’t want to end the post with the low of the press tour, remember when someone at a press event began their question to Scarlett Johansson by saying Black Widow is clearly meant to be the sexy Avenger and she responded by asking if they had seen Chris Hemsworth? If not, here’s the link.

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