When we first met the character in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” she was little more than a form-fitting catsuit and a wig with an impressive arsenal of martial arts moves. Now, more than a decade later, the Avenger is at the center of her own stand-alone film due largely to how Scarlett Johansson has invested in her on-screen alter ego’s humanity.
Speaking with Collider about her character’s evolution, the actor candidly reflected on the sexist origins of Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, who she said was treated like “a possession” in her earliest iteration.
“You look back at ‘Iron Man 2’ and while it was really fun and had a lot of great moments in it, the character is so sexualized,” she said. “Really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or a thing or whatever — like a piece of ass, really.”
In her first scene in the franchise, Johansson’s character goes undercover as a personal assistant to Tony Stark, who openly ogles her, prompting Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts to liken her to a “very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit” in the making. After browsing through photos of Johansson in lingerie, Stark then tells Potts, “I want one.”
“At one point [Tony Stark] calls her a piece of meat and maybe at that time that actually felt like a compliment,” Johansson continued. “Because my thinking was different. … My own self-worth was probably measured against that type of comment.”
Johansson believes Black Widow’s evolution in later films is due to the “move away from the kind of hyper-sexualization,” allowing the creative team to surface a multidimensional version of the comic book character.
And while her sexuality is still a part of what makes Widow tick, Johansson now believes instead that “her strength was actually her vulnerability.”
“Young girls are getting a much more positive message, but it’s been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side and be a part of that old story, but also progress,” she added.
The upcoming “Black Widow” film, which takes place before the events of “Avengers: Endgame” and explores the character’s mysterious origins, also arrives at a turning point for Johansson off-screen.
“I’m a mom and my life is different,” she said. “Obviously, 10 years have passed and things have happened and I have a much different, more evolved understanding of myself. As a woman, I’m in a different place in my life, you know? And I felt more forgiving of myself, as a woman, and not — sometimes probably not enough. I’m more accepting of myself.”
Directed by Cate Shortland and co-starring Florence Pugh as a potential Black Widow replacement, the film is finally set to simultaneously hit theaters and debut on Disney+ via Premier Access on July 9, 2021, after multiple COVID-19-related delays.
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