Captain Marvel and WandaVision have been positive steps for female representation within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it's been a long road to get here. No one knows that better than Scarlett Johansson, who is only now getting a solo origin film for her character Black Widow 11 years after stepping into the role.
Despite never having a film to call her own, Black Widow has been a constant across seven movies in the MCU (as well as a cameo after Captain Marvel). She was initially introduced as eye candy for Tony Stark, became a failed love interest for Bruce Banner and then held her own as the only female Avenger for some time.
Over the years, the character of Black Widow has shed her stereotypical sexist connotations to become a hero everyone can look up to and fans will finally get to see that when Black Widow releases on July 9.
BLACK WIDOW'S EVOLUTION IN THE MCU
In an interview with Time, Marvel Studios' Executive Vice President of Production Victoria Alonso discussed the difficulties of creating female-fronted action films.
Alonso, who is also a producer on Marvel's Black Widow, said it was an uphill battle to get females front and center due to the myth that "women's stories don't sell" in Hollywood:
"There was always a myth that women’s stories don’t sell. That superheroes can’t be women. We had to demystify a bunch of these myths that were very much a part of what Hollywood was all about."
Black Widow was the first major female superhero to appear in the MCU, but she started off as simply a "chess piece", according to actress Scarlett Johansson:
"In the beginning she was used as a kind of chess piece for her male counterparts."
The myth of women's stories not selling or that female characters should be there to serve a male lead simply isn't true anymore, which is a notion a lot of studios are now running to catch up with — Marvel included.
However, in more recent years, Marvel Studios has made moves towards more progressive treatment of women and their storylines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is something Alonso said has been a "conscientious effort":
"I think there is a conscientious effort to not objectify women."
For Black Widow's solo story, Marvel also hired its first solo female director in Cate Shortland.
When it came to writing a backstory for the character, Shortland found that Black Widow was a character "created for the male gaze" but that "wasn't who she was" in reality.
“She was a character created for the male gaze. Initially, even the way she moved, the way she dressed—it was helpful as a stepping-stone. But it wasn’t who she was.”
PHASE 4 BRINGING INCLUSION FOR MARVEL
It's hard to believe that out of 23 Marvel movies only one of them has been fronted by a woman, but after Captain Marvel made over $1 billion at the box office, it can no longer be ignored that grounded female stories sell.
Starting with Black Widow, Marvel is making moves towards more progressive female heroes in its fourth phase. Scarlett Johansson's solo film, in particular, will take a more character-driven standpoint and provide a fitting send-off for Marvel's first female Avenger.
Black Widow is just the start of Marvel Studios' more conscious efforts to include stories for women. Ms. Marvel, Eternals, She-Hulk, and the Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels are just some of the female-focused films coming up in Phase 4. Not to mention audiences will see the rise of female heroes like Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder and Kate Bishop in Hawkeye.
It's unclear whether Marvel will follow through on its A-Force teaser from Avengers: Endgame, but regardless, the future does look decidedly more female for the MCU.