Movies BlackWidow

Published on August 14th, 2014 | by Ian Goodwillie


Where’s Our Damn Black Widow Movie?

Marvel has done an amazing job of bringing their universe to the screen.  Unless you’re female or non-caucasion.  Then you’re marginalized, just like real life.

Since Nick Fury popped up at the end of Iron Man to talk to Tony Stark about The Avengers Initiative, the Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU] has been on a roll. The only real speed bump was the largely underrated but still enjoyable Hulk film with Edward Norton. It’s part of the MCU. Deal with it. Films made by other companies using Marvel properties have been mostly mediocre, too frequently terrible, and occasionally watchable.

To sum up the point, the MCU is a juggernaut at this point. But how do you sustain that kind of success? Diversity.

The most recent comic book long shot turned big screen cash cow is Guardians of the Galaxy, a film about a group of criminals banding together to save the universe from something worse than them. And it was great. Guardians of the Galaxy was a completely new direction for Marvel films, taking us into the long-standing group of space-based comics and characters that had yet to appear on screen. But as great a breath of fresh air it was, in no small part to the film’s leading man Chris Pratt, it doesn’t change the fact that we have yet to watch a film in the MCU with a main character that is neither white nor male.

Thor.  Captain America. Hulk (well, specifically his alter ego Bruce Banner).  Iron Man. Star-Lord.  These are the heroes front and centre in the MCU. To date, our only female heroes are Gamora and Black Widow with Scarlet Witch on the way in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jessica Drew getting a Netflix series. Falcon and War Machine have appeared in films with Luke Cage on his way to Netflix — but they are, so far, the only heroes of color in the MCU. Well, unless you count green.

All of the persons of color and women have so far been relegated to the roles of supporting characters in the stories of white/male heroes. While larger roles loom for some of these characters, and it’s easy to argue that Black Widow has stolen the show on screen a couple of times, the question remains of why we’re not seeing a bigger push to get more diverse characters on screen in leading roles. It’s a ridiculous question to be asking during a time for comic book films kicked off by Blade.

This goes back to the roots of these movies in comic books, a notoriously white-washed, male dominated world. To specify, we’re talking about comics produced at Marvel and DC, the big two publishers, and not smaller presses and indie books where the diversity of both creator and subject is far greater.

One would like to think that the big publishers are getting more diverse, both in who they employ and in what heroes headline the comics they sell. And they seem to be. But it’s still a white, male dominated industry, something that’s definitely coming through on the big screen. Our first real hint of an awakening might actually be away from movie theatres and on TV screens thanks to ABC’s Agent Carter and the upcoming Netflix offerings.

Peggy Carter, the World War II love interest of Captain America, will be getting her own TV shows that fills in the Christmas break gap for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Though it had a rough first season for the most part, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. improved greatly after the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s unfortunate that the beleaguered TV show’s plot hinged so much on the reveal in Captain America’s second outing. It would have had a much stronger first season if better stories could have been told building up to Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy. But season one was good enough to greenlight a season two and with it a period piece about the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. focusing on its first agent, Peggy Carter.

This newfound success for a secondary character in an MCU Phase One film is, in part, due to the short film Agent Carter which appeared on the Blu Ray release of Iron Man 3. It was our earliest look at what would become a TV series this fall.

Beyond Agent Carter, what else so we have to look forward to? Ant-Man and Doctor Strange are both on the way but again both are white and male. We haven’t heard much about the Netflix series Marvel has been working on outside of Daredevil but Luke Cage is supposed to be getting his own show. We’ll see if that actually happens though not much has been said about the announced series outside of Terry Crews voicing his desire to play the character. And it’s looking more and more like Janet Van Dyne will be dead in the Ant-Man film.  Does that mean The Wasp, another long-standing female hero and founding Avenger, will not appear in the MCU?

Where is Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel? Where is Black Panther? Why doesn`t Black Widow, after appearing prominently in three other MCU films, have her own solo movie?  Instead of hammering us with sequels after The Avengers, more new solo films should have been introduced before leaning into Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. That said, at least Captain America: The Winter Soldier introduced a couple of new characters in The Winter Soldier and Falcon in addition to giving Black Widow some well-deserved screen time.

The reality is that creating a more diverse group of heroes and villains on the big screen is not only ethically correct, it’s good business. You can’t broaden your fan base and tickets sales if you’re not broadening the content you’re offering. Filmgoers are fickle and get bored fast. It’s just smart to give them newer, fresher content in addition to sequels to films they’re familiar with. Marvel is finally trying to push that way in the comics with more titles created by and headlined by women and persons of color. Those efforts should be reflected on the big screen. And that doesn’t mean a two minute throwaway cameo for Captain Marvel in the next Avengers film. That means putting a strong, viable character on the screen that leads into her own movie(s).

It feels like there’s been a lot of build up towards a Black Widow solo outing with no payoff on the horizon. The same can be said of the rumours of a Black Panther film as well as the Netflix series for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage which have been announced with little movement since. Though there is largely praise being heaped upon Guardians of the Galaxy, there are detractors who feel that Gamora and Nebula did not play strong enough roles in the film, and who also felt that Gamora’s character was reduced to being little more than a quivering bundle of confused feelings towards Peter Quill. Beyond that, the issue has also been raised of Quill’s character, another in a long line of space-misogynists who forget the names of the women they sleep with or that they’re even on their ships.

Quill’s character is what it is, both in the comics and on the big screen. Part of that character is the negative, womanizing aspects. Is it good that he’s like that? No. But he’s also a thief and a dick who has to change to become a hero, so his misogynistic leanings are unfortunately part of the story and something his character will need to put behind him. As for Gamora, we definitely need more of her in the next movie. Zoe Saldana killed it. But this movie was, for the most part, focused in on Quill with the greatest attention paid to his back story and development over every other character in the film. That’s the story the director chose to tell in Guardians of the Galaxy, for better or worse.

The true tragedy will come in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 if Gamora is used as little more than a set piece for the continued development of the Star-Lord character. Gamora is definitely not likely to get her own franchise but she is a great character who needs to have her back story properly fleshed out. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to her that’s happening to Black Widow.  And Black Widow, especially being played by a popular A-lister like Scarlett Johansson, is definitely a character that could support a standalone film.

Despite its issues, Guardians of the Galaxy is an undeniable success which will hopefully encourage Marvel to give a more diverse group of heroes a chance. And to follow through on those plans. Right now, Marvel’s post Age of Ultron Phase Three offerings are Ant-Man, Captain America 3, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2, all movies again with white, male leads. There has been seemingly little movement on the Netflix series for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones with Daredevil chugging along. Maybe Phase 4 will be the time to shine for more diverse heroes, assuming fans aren’t worn out on comic book film adaptations by then. If we’re just seeing the same essential faces headlining these films again and again, we will be.

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About the Author

Ian Goodwillie

is an established freelance writer, a regular contributor to both Prairie books NOW and The Winnipeg Review. He also writes two blogs that very few people pay attention to, a Twitter feed no one follows, and film scripts that will never see the light of day. He is very fulfilled by his career choice.

3 Responses to Where’s Our Damn Black Widow Movie?

  1. Arae says:

    While I agree that Black Widow deserves a film and that women and POC are less prevelent in superhero films and tv shows you completely glossed over the fact that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD was less about Agent Coulson and more about Skye, a young Latina woman, and Agent Melinda May, an ass-kicking Asian-American woman. It’s great to talk about how progress still needs to be made, but don’t seemingly leave out representation that doesn’t agree with your message.

    • Ian Goodwillie Ian Goodwillie says:

      The point of this essay is not a detailed analysis of every female or person of colour character created by the Marvel Cinematic/TV Universe for use in the Marvel Cinematic/TV Universe. The focus is on the under representation of pre-existing female and POC comic book characters in the MCTU, and asking why those few that have been converted are underutilized.

      I don’t disagree with your point about the importance of May and Skye. They simply aren’t part of this specific conversation because their characters are new creations for a TV series. Like much of the team they work with, May and Skye are constructs of the Marvel Cinematic/TV Universe, not adaptations to it.

      This is a conversation about adaptation from one media form to another, the choices being made on which characters make the transition, and how they end up being used. May and Skye are not the answers to the questions I’m asking.

  2. sweetooth0 says:

    Maybe Marvel hasn’t done a female led superhero movie yet because those movies have a pretty abysmal track record at the box office (Elektra, Catwoman), and lets face it, box office gross is priority #1 for Disney.

    The thing is, white male heroes are the heroes that have been permanently etched into pop culture history because they have been around for decades, whereas the females characters have only come into prominence in recent years (as main characters and not just supporting cast), and that doesn’t translate to a wide age demographic.

    Honestly, I didn’t even know who Black Widow was until she was introduced into the movie, and I suspect I’m not alone.

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