Scarlett Johansson on the Depiction of Superheroines in Film

Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow in Marvel's The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers has now beaten out The Dark Knight as the third highest grossing film of all time. (The Avengers has raked in a reported $573.7 million compared to The Dark Knight’s $533.3 million.) It’s not surprising when you consider that the film made over $200 million it’s opening weekend. But, what I found most impressive is that an estimated 40% of the opening weekend audience was female.

I’m sure this high female turnout is in part due to the film’s aggressive marketing campaign which included promotions targeted at women such as appearances by the film’s stars on The View talk show. (Insistently, Marvel has also recently used The View to promote the upcoming same sex marriage between Northstar and Kyle Jinadu). However, the fact that The Avengers has finally given us a non-exploitative depiction of a badass superheroine on film probably didn’t hurt either.

The Black Widow in front of an explosion from The Avengers

Writer and director Joss Whedon, who has long been know for his positive depictions of women on film and TV, may have put the Black Widow’s words and actions to paper but it was Scarlett Johansson who brought the Widow to life. And just when I thought I couldn’t be more impressed with her, she said this about the treatment of superheroines in film during a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly:

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 things [sic] 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’… But I do think superhero — 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.

I particularly love the scene Johansson is referring to. Comics have a shameful history of limiting many of its female characters to damsels in distress and/or as the subject of bondage fetishes. The scene manages to flip this typical power dynamic on its head and it serves as an excellent introduction to the Black Widow.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow chair sequence

The Avengers proves that a superhero movie can include a woman that is interesting, badass, and sexy without being exploitative. I hope other superhero movies (and comics) will take notice. Here’s hoping that we can get a few more women (and some people of color) on the team in the sequel.

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