The superhero genre has changed a lot since the MCU's debut movie, Iron Man, in 2008. Hollywood as a whole has changed in the same light. One aspect that's been impacted heavily in this evolution is the portrayal of women in comic book movies.
It was sadly a near inevitability in the 2000s that any woman cast in a comic book film would be hyper-sexualized. Some of the more prominent examples include 2004's Catwoman, 2005's Elektra, and Mystique in the Fox-produced X-Men films.
The MCU didn't avoid these pitfalls either upon its inception. Specifically with Black Widow's introduction to the franchise in 2010's Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson's character was equally sexualized.
Johansson recently got candid about the film's treatment of her character and how that dynamic has changed over time.
BLACK WIDOW HAS CHANGED FROM IRON MAN 2
Speaking to Collider, Scarlett Johansson shared some insight on how the treatment of her character has evolved since the MCU's earliest days. Mentioning Iron Man 2 directly, she notes the character was "so sexualized" and was treated "like a possession."
"...I mean, 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, you know? Really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or a thing or whatever — like a piece of ass, really."
When it's brought up that Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark says, "I want some," Johansson explains how that impacted her at the time.
"'I want some.' Yeah and at one point calls her a piece of meat and maybe at that time that actually felt like a compliment. You know what I mean? Because my thinking was different. Maybe I even would have, you know, my own self-worth was probably measured against that type of comment..."
Thankfully, times are changing. Johannson remarked that people, especially young girls, "are getting a much more positive message" through current superhero movies:
"Now people, 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. Evolve. I think it’s pretty cool."
Johansson also spoke about how the change to the character was partially driven by her own growth, saying, "a lot of that change is from me too."
"...I think part of that change has probably — it’s hard because I’m inside it, but probably a lot of that is actually from me too. I’ll be 35 years old and I’m a mom and my life is different. 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?"
MARVEL'S FOCUS SHIFTS WITH THE TIMES
There are plenty of reasons for the change Johansson described, but it's certainly welcome and has been a long time coming. As the comic book movie industry shifts from a past dominated by white men into a future of diversity and representation, the MCU has become a driving force for change.
Marvel executive Victoria Alonso recently noted that the majority of their viewers were women. That's in equal part because of the increasingly changed presentation of women in MCU projects and a driving force to continue it. The industry has come a very long way from the early 2000s to films like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Eternals.
The fact that Marvel both understands the diversity of their audience and sees it as a strength is why their projects have increasingly pushed for better representation and fairer treatment of women. Phase 4 promises to be the most inclusive yet, and women will play critical roles in the MCU without being burdened by the hypersexualization that seemed so critical to their inclusion in past projects.
When the Marvel movie drought ends with Black Widow's release on July 9 in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access, fans will get their first taste of how the studio is bringing that change to the big screen.