If you’re a fan of superhero movies, then you probably know who Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow is. Played by Scarlet Johansson, Black Widow was introduced during the second Iron Man movie and is a master assassin, spy, and eventually a co-founder of the Avengers.
Since then, Natasha has become one of the beloved characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In fact, little girls have dressed up as her for Halloween and young kids say they want to be her when they grow up. (Read: Gal Gadot Hosts New Series About ‘Wonder Women’ Around the World)
But of course, the popularity the character gained wasn’t always a good thing.
A hypersexualized character
Because she’s the lone female in the Avengers, Black Widow was often hypersexualized by the media. Even in her first appearance in the MCU, she was already treated as a “piece of meat” and objectified by Tony Stark. In one of the scenes in Iron Man 2, Tony says “I want one,” referring to Natasha, who was going undercover as his assistant.
“Yeah, and at one point calls her a piece of meat, and maybe at that time that actually felt like a compliment,” Scarlett says in an interview. While she says that Natasha used her sexuality as a means to manipulate people–seeing that she is a spy and assassin–she had more to her than just her looks and her body.
Even as early as 2012, Scarlett already made subtle comments about the sexualization of female characters in superhero movies. She says that most of them have to fight in a bra, which to her is ridiculous. (Read: This Pinoy Maestro Makes Stunning Paintings of Filipina Women)
“I think they’re always fighting in a bra, so while it might be exciting for a still photo, it’s ridiculous,” Scarlett said. “I’d have to wear pasties to green-light any of these movies,” she said in another interview, referring to what she would have to do just to get a stand-alone movie for Black Widow.
But as the years went by, Black Widow has been less sexualized and more accepted as a strong individual worthy of being part of the male-dominated Avengers.
“Her power’s in her sexuality, and then that changed over time, right? Her strength was actually her vulnerability,” Scarlett said about Black Widow’s character development over the years. “That’s the kind of place that we’re in now and then in Endgame she sacrifices herself out of love. She saves her friend. She saves everyone.”
And with the move away from the hypersexualization of the character also came the self-acceptance Scarlett has. “I’m more accepting of myself, I think. All of that is related to that move away from the kind of hyper-sexualization of this character.”
This character development, and the female empowerment Natasha/Black Widow wants to give to girls and women out there, are highlighted in her standalone movie Black Widow thanks to director Cate Shortland.
“With Cate, it’s just been so liberating because she’s not afraid of any of the ugliness or — it doesn’t need to be ugliness, it’s even embarrassing or uncomfortable parts, like the soft underbelly, all that,” the 36-year-old actress shares. “So you see Natasha’s in her real, true strength in this film more than ever before.”
Black Widow is now available on Disney+ via Premiere Access. You can also watch the trailer here.