Monday, May 7, 2012

The Ladies of the Avengers

This is part of my series on 2012 blockbusters. Check out the others: The Hunger Games, Prometheus, Snow White and the HuntsmanTed/Abraham Lincoln Vampire HunterBraveMagic Mikeand MIB3.

Did you know I'm married to a movie guy? Like, a BIG TIME movie guy. As such, his excitement for the first blockbuster of the summer, The Avengers, was pretty extreme. And we had the opportunity to see it early last Monday night. But because it was so damn good, we saw it again Friday night (and he even saw it a third time yesterday.)

Aside from just being highly entertaining and just the right amount of humor and high-paced action, The Avengers even got a few things right about gender. This isn't surprising as many geek feminists laud Joss Whedon (the writer/director known for his comparably strong female characters, like Buffy.)

But as someone who doesn't know a ton about Whedon's work (sue me! I'm a NERD, not a geek!) I didn't really know what to expect. I just knew I was really happy to not be offended by the end of it. So let's take a look at what I specifically liked about the women of The Avengers. This might get a little tricky, because I'm really, really going to try to avoid spoilers, but no promises...

1) No tokens here!
Some disappointing facts are the very low number of women in The Avengers overall, the complete absence of women of color, and the fact that it does not pass the Brechdel Test. However, the women who are present in the story are far from tokens. Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow-played by Scarlett Johansson) is the only official female Avenger. However, she is an integral part of the team who holds her own in every critical way. In fact, the teamwork nature of the Avengers is their biggest strength and one of the most entertaining aspects of the film. Each of the members of the team play a critical role in the culminating scene and Romanoff is no exception. And she's not alone. Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) who is Nick Fury's #2, is also extremely important, strong, and decisive.

2) Let's rescue each other.
How many times have we seen a superhero movie where the woman (typically a love interest) fucks up at some point and has to be rescued by her male counterpart? Hmm...about a billionty. In The Avengers Romanoff and Hill are not love interests but they are each rescued by men at some point in the film. But here's the big difference: they also save men. Like I mentioned,  the characters in the movie are truly a team, and as such, they have each other's backs.

3) What? Are you sexist?
One of my favorite things about Romanoff is that she is actually able to pray on the sexism of villains to her own advantage. (I'm trying to stay sooooo un-spoilery right now, so bear with the vagueness.) Suffice it to say that when Romanoff appears weak, there is much more than meets the eye. She's always in control of her situations. It's something that we as the audience don't even realize, since we're too often used to seeing emotional, weak women.

So all in all, I was really pleasantly surprised with the gender depicted in the film.

Of course, it's not perfect. My biggest concern, as I mentioned above, is that I can't think of a single woman of color speaking role. I mean, Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury is the only significant black man in the film. So we have one significant minority character and two important women over all. Yet again, the intersection of racism and sexism has thrown minority women under the bus.

But I feel I can say that The Avengers is a step in the right direction for the gender depiction. I wish it had gone further and contained more diversity of women (race, body type, etc.) but I am appreciative for what it was. Especially since Johansson's Romanoff just annoyed me in Iron Man 2. I should have known that in the right story, she'd be an awesome character.


  1. I totally agree! I went into the movie expecting to be disappointed and with preconceptions about the (what I thought were) "token females". I was impressed. As a BIG fan of Joss Whedon and his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, I should have known with him at the helm that the women would be strong. I was impressed!! And did you notice that almost half of the bridge crew on that flying aircraft carrier were females? :) Yay.

  2. I didn't bother to see Iron Man 2 because I disliked Iron Man, so this was my first exposure to Black Widow. And I have to say, my first thought was "The sole female member of this team is not only not-really-a-superhero (no mutations, extraordinary intelligence, or mechanical enhancements), but her 'superpower' is....manipulation? Seriously?" I really enjoyed Scarlett Johansson's performance though, and would love to see an entire movie based around her as Black Widow-- a spy movie, not a superhero movie.

    1. I hadn't thought about it from the angle that her power was manipulation before, but I do think that's a valid reading although different from my own. Like I said above, I read it more as praying on their sexism. And I also thought it kinda cool that a woman with no powers could hold her own with a demi god, a super solider, a man in an iron suit, and a mutated rage monster.

      It would be interesting to see a Black Widow movie. I think most of the action movies w/ female leads have been handled extremely poorly to this point.


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