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Black Widow: Possibly Marvel’s Most Feminist Film to Date

By Alyana Santillana

Image via New York Times

Given that Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) has been a core member of The Avengers for the past decade, her solo, self-titled movie has been long awaited. With strong action sequences highlighting the prowess of Romanoff, new characters such as Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), and strong action sequences on brand with other Marvel films, this film did not disappoint.

However, Black Widow sets itself apart from the rest of Marvel’s repertoire with its strikingly feminist undertones. For the first time, we are given a glimpse of the many complexities that surround Johansson’s historically objectified character. This is even evident in the film’s cinematography and costume design. When compared to Romanoff’s first appearance in Iron Man 2, this film featured next to no “ass shots” sexualizing Johansson. Furthermore, the Widow costumes worn by Johansson, Pugh, and Rachel Weisz (Melina Vostokoff) cater substantially less to the male gaze.

While the film is essentially a backstory for Natasha Romanoff, it portrays issues prevalent in today’s society. The film’s premise revolves around Romanoff seeking vengeance on Draykov, the man responsible for the manipulation of hundreds of women worldwide. His character mirrors the actions of well-known men called out during the #MeToo movement--namely Harvey Weinstein. The climax of the movie features Johansson’s character confronting her captor, and setting free thousands of other “widows” in the process.

The story behind the widows themselves portrays yet another issue plaguing our world today: human trafficking. The opening credits of the film shows a chilling slideshow of young girls being taken to the Red Room, a training facility for Widows, with a haunting rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” playing in the background. Lined up in rows of cargo containers, girls as young as toddlers were stripped of their comfort items and forced into assassin training. This scene is reminiscent of the thousands of young girls who are trafficked into sex work yearly.

On a lighter note, the film features humor that dismantles patriarchal tropes in the film industry. One particular scene sees David Harbour’s character asking Yelena Belova if her sour tone was a result of it being her “time of the month.” In response, she returns with “I don’t get my period dipsh*t, I have no uterus,” alluding to the Red Room’s practice of giving trainees involuntary hysterectomies. Despite being a funny comeback, this one liner is a witty response to a question many women in the workplace are harassed with.

The Black Widow film gave a heartwarming and well deserved send off to the character. Like any other Marvel movie, it was action packed and had viewers at the edge of their seats. However, it also brought into light a plethora of issues facing women and portrayed them in a manner in which they are seen as more than sexual objects or commodities for the male gaze.

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