On Comic Books and Movies.

[Update: Chris Evans has apologized for the sexist comments (and possibly the ableist ones although I’d like to see that specifically mentioned). You can see at that link that Jeremy Renner nonpologized that he offended people. I’m hoping they’ll issue longer statements later, even though I think that hope is futile.]

Dear Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner:

You don’t know me. You might not ever even read this. But after seeing the interview you gave in which you felt compelled to call the character Black Widow both a whore and a slut, I decided I couldn’t keep quiet any more.

I’m Rowan, and I’ve been reading comics almost as long as I can remember. I was a voracious reader as a kid, and one of my parents thought it would be a good idea to show me the graphic novels section of my local library. I was hooked almost immediately.

In comic books I found a world where smart people could succeed on the basis of their smarts. I found a world where the strong stood up for the weak. I found a world where people who did evil were vanquished, and a world where those who hurt others weren’t considered the best of us, but rather the worst. In the primary colored Golden Age I met a Captain America who stood for what was right and true and good, and I met a Hawkeye who took things others would consider disadvantage (including a disability not unlike a prosthetic leg) and turned them into his greatest strengths.

In the pages of the Silver Age I found complex narrative that wasn’t watered down the way things for “kids” sometimes are. I learned that morality has shades of grey, but that it still isn’t alright to let your shit roll downhill. That teamwork saves the day and that even in the darkest nights there is hope. I learned that when we think we are weak, we are still stronger than we know.

From the Bronze age, I saw a Hawkeye who made family wherever he went. Whether it be in an apartment building that was once a tenement and a homeless dog (thanks Matt Fraction!), or with supers who might not otherwise have family…such as the Avengers. I read a Captain America who struggled with what it means to be a super in a world of “mortal men” and whether his powers made him a savior or a danger. These were men of principle, men of character, men I could be happy to try to grow up emulating.

And I met Natalia Romanova (Natasha Romanoff), a young Russian woman who was fucked up by her government, and had to figure everything about herself out from scratch.

As a survivor of abuse, Natalia’s story has spoken to me for over a decade. Trying to do good and right when all you’ve ever been taught is wrong? That’s a powerful narrative and doubly so for a woman, who is expected to be meek, subservient, and never question the status quo. Natasha is a touchstone for many women like me, women who’ve been told we’re bad. Women who have sexuality and who’ve been called sluts and whores not nearly as jokingly as you did on the press junket, purely for having the gall to turn someone down.

Natasha in the movies has been the only woman hero we’ve been explicitly offered by Marvel/Disney. Jane Foster is arguably the protagonist of Thor, but she’s also a princess in need of saving. And Pepper Potts has repeatedly saved the world in the Iron Man films (once with Natasha’s help) but she’s never been front and center in any of the media properties. Natasha is, to date, the only woman we’ve seen be allowed to be “super.” She’s a woman Captain America shows respect for (from calling her ma’am to trusting her when she said she could take on the bad guys and giving her a boost). She’s a woman Hawkeye has a friendship with, if Avengers is any clue.

And she’s a woman who’s already been crapped on by directors. Joss Whedon’s proudest moment according to an interview he gave was managing to call Natasha a cunt, by dressing it up in language censors wouldn’t know.

And so, gentlemen, this is why I was heartbroken to listen to the interview in which you referred to Black Widow as a slut and a whore, and then made an ableist joke about Natasha having a prosthetic leg and that making her unattractive.

As the actors who portray these heroes, like it or not, you’ve taken on a responsibility to be role models. You now carry a burden that yes, weighs quite a bit. Young men and women look up to you, and what they just heard is that it’s okay to call girls who have more than one boyfriend sluts. That if they’re young women they better lock up their attractions to others because it’s not ok to be attracted to too many people. They better not flirt or they’re being a tease. Etc. etc..

Congratulations gentlemen, you’ve just used your positions as role models to reinforce the dominant narratives around women’s sexuality.

And here’s the thing. I suspect it was off the cuff. I suspect this is a black joke that you all shared when the stress of filming broke you down, and now that you’re on the other side you’re lightheaded and giddy and it was a moment of unchecked language. Plenty of people have been there. That’s not an excuse, but I understand how it happens. I’ve been known to make that kind of joke when I’m exhausted and at the end of a hard job.

That’s why I’m writing this. Because you’re human, and humans make mistakes. And I, like many fans, am now imploring you to make it right. Apologize. Explain that the joke wasn’t ok, and that you commit to not making it again. Answer questions about Black Widow’s sex life in the future with considered things like, “It’s really sad that in a movie about super heroes, the most interesting question you can ask is about who one of the characters is sleeping with.”

Please, guys, be worthy of the costumes and masks you’ve inherited to portray. Be the role models kids see you as.

Excelsior,
Rowan G. Cota
Comic Books Fan, MCU Nerd


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