Black Widow: Female Representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Madelaine Gerard, Mark Poepsel

Abstract


With film franchises such as Iron Man, The Avengers, Black Panther, Spider Man (Homecoming), and Thor in its repertoire, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become known for its diverse collection of superhero films produced by Marvel Studios, a motion picture company owned by The Walt Disney Company. Since the release of the first Iron Man film in 2008, films in the universe’s canonical timeline and story structures have grossed nearly $15 billion worldwide. While the films have established the stories of some of the most beloved superheroes in comic book history, female characters are gravely underrepresented and may be mischaracterized.

 

In particular, oversexualized representations of women in comic book film franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, can be tied back to the classic feminist concept of the “male gaze.” When women in these films are presented primarily as romantic interests who exist only to serve their male counterparts, it systemically weakens female characters who may have been depicted as strong and independently motivated in other contexts.

 

Following an intense study of both visual and textual representation of Natasha Romanoff, her character’s arc, and varying motivations throughout five films, she is visually, textually, and systemically sexualized and objectified. In two separate films within the franchise, her position as a strong, leading member within The Avengers is diminished by involvement in romantic relationships. In one of the most disturbing threats to her character, an aspect of her back story reveals that she was forcibly sterilized as part of her spy training. Natasha Romanoff, or Black Widow is not the hero challenging the patriarchy that many comic book fans had hoped for.


Keywords


media studies, feminist critical theory, Marvel films, Black Widow, The Avengers

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