Martha Thomases: Whedon and Women
Summer’s here and the time is right for geeking in the street. In a triumph of nerd culture, The Avengers may be the most successful movie of all time. Certainly, with the second week box office results breaking all kinds of records, there is more going on here than people who read comic books going opening day. There aren’t enough people who read superhero comics to make a movie that successful.
There are, however, enough shared values among comic book creators and movie creators to make a hit. In the case of The Avengers, a lot of the credit must go to Joss Whedon. Whedon earned his cred not only by writing awesome comics, but by producing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse.
Those shows had loyal fan bases (which didn’t overlap enough, or we’d still have the latter two on the air). They also shared a marvelous, matter-of-fact feminist sensibility.
The critical response? Not so much.
Most of the critical reviews single out Scarlett Johansson, saying she can’t act, or she’s only there to look pretty. One comment called her a female Keanu Reeves, which irked me for multiple reasons. I enjoy Keanu Reeves. I thought he was brilliant in My Own Private Idaho. And I really like Johansson in The Avengers. I believe she, like her character, has a brain in her head.
What I mostly enjoy about her character is the fact that her motivations are similar to those of her teammates. She wants to rescue her colleague, Hawkeye. Being on the team is part of her job, which she takes seriously.
The Black Widow is not on the team because she’s somebody’s girlfriend or sister. She’s not there to provide a love interest for a more important male character. She’s not there to be taken hostage by the bad guy (a role played, too some extent, by Hawkeye). She is not murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator. She doesn’t wear a costume that is more revealing than anyone else’s, or that defies the laws of physics to keep the film’s PG-13 rating. That’s reserved for the Hulk’s pants, which seem to grow when he does during the New York City battle.
Of course, she must be vilified.
In our popular culture, we’re very threatened by women who consider themselves to be just as able and just as interesting and just as important as men consider themselves to be. If women find meaning in their own lives, a huge market in cosmetics, plastic surgery, fashion and hair color dries up. If women think they can find meaning and value within themselves, they might only wear stiletto heels as a lark, and not proof of their femininity. They might have relationships with men they like, and not for status or validation.
The powers-that-be don’t enjoy that possibility. They’ve kept it out of almost all the other super-hero stories.
As fans and as feminists, we have an obligation to hold their feet to the fire when the inevitable sequels arrive. Joss can’t – and shouldn’t – have to do it alone.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
Bravo! And it’s obvious the American Theatre Wing thinks Scarlet Johansson can act, as they gave her a Tony for her Broadway debut. I loved her in The Avengers, not to mention Lost in Translation, The Horse Whisperer and Manny and Lo. The only time I didn’t fall for her “magic” was in that strangely misogynistic role in Match Point.
My wife, daughter and sister-in-law loved The Avengers and The Black Widow’s role.
Last week on Real Time, Bill Maher likened the Black Widow’s contribution to the Avengers as, (paraphrasing now since I no longer have the show recorded), “two guns and big tits”.
I have to assume he hadn’t seen the movie. But, as with so many of his opinions about other women, he is consistently sexist.
Is there a bigger jerk who continually gets a pass than Maher? Hopefully some are waking up to his shtick. Here’s a tip folks–when someone is being a raging douchewheel it doesn’t matter if the target is someone you don’t like–don;t encourage it. You’ll just get more of the same, toward targets you like, and your moral outrage at it will seem kind of hypocritical and self serving.
Johansson had one of the best scenes in the movie, the intellectual beatdown to Loki that probably hurt as much as the more physical one delivered by the Hulk later on. It was also a good payoff to her very first scene and showed how she uses her enemies’ perception of her “womanly weakness” to work against them.
The lesson is–underestimate women and you may well end up looking very very stupid. If Maher is smart he’ll learn that. So, in other words, he won’t.
I don’t know if Loki felt as hurt by Black Widow as he did by the Hulk – but what she did was at least as disruptive to his plans.
And as I pointed out to someone who claimed (elsewhere) that she didn’t belong there because “she doesn’t have superpowers” – she ran mind games on the god of trickery. Not all superpowers have to have flashy special effects, you know…
I often dont like what Maher says about women, and haven’t for the past 20 years. Nor do I agree with all his political opinions (I am not as much of an animal rights advocate as he is). That said, I think he is more often funny than not.
To me, if I notice a comedian’s politics enough to pick them apart, then that comic isn’t funny enough.
Actually, the majority of the critics think she was good to great in the role and the negative criticism is pretty limited.
I love the fact that Black Widow was central in bringing in Banner, even though the Hulk is the living personification of her deepest nightmare. She punched Hawkeye back into sanity, pulled a beautiful fast one on Loki and got his plan out of him, and was a team player, not eye candy or a damsel in distress. Johansson can act, and act well. And if people can’t deal with that, maybe they need to be punched back into sanity, too.
Wheedon gets women. Period. End of statement.
Btw, Martha, everybody always seems to forget ANGEL when mentioning Wheedon’s credits. A spin-off from the Buffster, it was a brilliantly dark series (starring that guy who currently stars in BONES *smile*) im-not-so-ho.