Inspired by the popular films that grace the silver screen and our recent lecture, this post will focus on the female performance of militarized masculinity along with the concept of white privilege in the movie The Avengers. The comic-inspired adventure movie is based upon the super-humans who form the group The Avengers, and their quest to help save the earth from alien armies that threaten to takeover. The character of my interest however is the only female in the group, Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson), who is a spy and trained in combat.
Romanoff demonstrates the inherent warrior mentality to fight with this group of specialized forces, and is depicted as a powerful, key member of The Avengers. Never a liability, she has achieved high respect from important military figures. Although her hyper sexualized nature and stereotypical heroin appearance is impossible to ignore, overall I feel Scarlett Johansson’s character provides an example of female empowerment and breaks binary social constructions.
Similar to the female role of Maya in Zero Dark Thirty as expressed in class, Natasha Romanoff has a firm belonging in the group and has respect of the people around her. One of the first scenes of the film opens with an agent calling her while she is in the field undercover. She proceeds to easily manipulate and beat up three men while on the telephone after the agent informs her she must come in because they “need her” and The Avengers group would not be complete without her. (YouTube link of the scene described: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wOE8cPWTMc). There is no issue of performance to see as a result of her femininity; she has the strength, skill, and abilities to help protect the entire planet. One improvement in comparison to Maya’s character I found though was that Johansson’s character did not have to work throughout the movie to gain her place. Rather, immediately from the start The Black Widow was a fierce and powerful super-human and the world required her assistance.
This respect for her abilities, and a man’s confidence in her attributes is not only refreshing, but also how it should be. However, it is a sad reality that these qualities are rare to find in many adventure storylines such as this one. Taking another one of the films discussed in class for example, Happy Feet, the female penguin is turned down by Mumble to join him on his adventure. He is convinced that she would not be “happy” to go out exploring; she would regret not having a home and children. Thus, the stereotypical female traits attached to her femininity mark her as unsuitable for this adventure. It’s a sad realization that all over media sources we see female characters only acceptable at a certain time and place.
Although Scarlett Johansson’s character is can be looked at with a sense of female empowerment, it is crucial her appearance is not ignored. While she does in fact reinforce all the stereotypical characteristics of a heroin by being beautiful and hyper sexualized, the fact that she is a young, white woman is also interesting. Could perhaps some of her success be credited to the inherit white privilege that she has? What’s more, all members of the avengers are white, upper-class individuals. Do you think we should overlook this undeniable fact that this elite white male-dominated group only has one woman in it that happens to be of white skin color? Is this a message to viewers about race in general? Those only white upper class individuals have the ability to make a difference in the world? Thoughts?