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Why Black Widow Will Never be an Actual Widow

Leading up to the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron a ferocious wave overcame bloggers, reviewers, YouTubers, pop culture pundits, and comic book lovers alike declaring how “bad ass” Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was going to be in this second film. Most of this frenzy was a result of the trailers released by Marvel leading up to the May 1, 2015 US release of the film – in particular the third Age of Ultron where Black Widow’s action got a fair chunk of screen time.

If you are like me and have been following the film cannon, then you would have been as relieved as I was to see Black Widow’s increased presence and capabilities since her debut in 2010. She went from sexy gymnast lady who can punch in Iron Man 2 to being Captain America’s sidekick in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to finally being an integral member of the team in Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Seeing her strength, intelligence, and sass in the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers got me genuinely excited. It may have taken five years, but things were starting to look up for the ladies of comic book cinema. And let’s be real for a second, it can be extremely difficult for female comic book and superhero film fans to find a non-male character to look up to that is not just there to be cute, funny, or saved.

But then I saw the film on opening night. And I felt sad. Then confused. Then just blindingly frustrated.

I began asking the same question repeatedly to myself: Why? Why did Joss Whedon, creator and overlord of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, all of which contained numerous dynamic, interesting, confident and complex female characters, give Black Widow such a stereotyped and almost insulting back story? Why does it have to be yet another iteration of a woman not feeling whole or fearing she will not be loved if she does not have children? This is in addition to her making way too many flirty noises and flutter eyes with more of her screen time and dialogue to Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner than I care to count.

You are telling me there wasn’t anything else? Nothing else in the entire Avengers universe or comic book back story to Black Widow that Whedon could have pulled from? Or just made up? Really? It really was disheartening for me to that her trauma revelation was that as part of her assassin programming she was forcibly sterilized to ensure in the future nothing would stand in her way of finishing a mission — in her case, children. Children could be kidnapped, used as bait, turned against her and no woman is strong enough to resist any of that. Not even Black Widow. Her buried trauma and fear, the one that the Scarlett Witch unlocks, is that no man could ever possibly love her because she cannot have children. She will not be complete as she yearns for the placid domesticity of a relationship and family.

Is this really what women are thinking about? Or is this what a middle-aged man thinks women think about? I will not deny the fact that Black Widow could be thinking about this (and that women do at times harbor these types of thoughts and feelings). But does this make for the most interesting, best portrayal of a female superhero on screen? No. Does this feel like a setback to all my ovary carrying sisters out there who want to be known for more than being someone’s mom or girlfriend or wife? Absolutely.

I want to think of it as Whedon trying to stand up for women. This is his way of saying you know, a woman totally has the right to be a mother and a killer! How dare we think she is so weak she cannot do both. She should not have to choose between saving the world and changing diapers. However, I am not able to move beyond the fact that the one female character Whedon worked so hard to build up he ultimately turned into a kind of whining love sick girl. Maybe they thought, because all the men but Banner are in relationships, that this would make Black Widow more dynamic? I honestly do not think so.

For me, this was a lost opportunity for an overdue character exploration for the only female superhero currently in the film-verse. And yes, I am discounting Elektra. Don’t act like you don’t know why.

Little known fact: Women can be way more interesting instead of being reduced to a few final moments where she silently mourns the loss of her would-be boyfriend before having to “suck it up” and get back to work. With the drought in female superheroes on screen, I believe the audiences (especially women if you want to keep them coming back) desire something more. What that more is, I am honestly not sure. It is more a feeling than action. But I do know this, thanks to Avengers: Age of Ultron Black Widow and all the female superheroes that come after her (here is hoping!) are going to have to do a lot more ass-kicking and a lot less dating.

Do you think Black Widow got the short end of the stick in Avengers: Age of Ultron? Let us know in the commnets section below or send us a tweet!

About the author

Courtney Antonioli

Courtney writes plays, essays, and tells stories live on stage in New York City. She also is working on a new web series, Stay Golden, documenting her attempt to reboot The Golden Girls in 2015.

1 Comment

  • Pff totally agreed. It was a disappointing moment in Age of Ultron. Frankly if it wasn’t for this I would have enjoyed the film 100 times more.