Black Widow is a movie about a female superhero – supposedly a big selling point in the #MeToo era. The problem is she is also Russian, a risky label in these politically charged times. Or are Americans too jaded to even care?
Much is being made in the media about Marvel Studio’s female-led superhero movie Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, the highly trained superspy who has been a mainstay in many Marvel films, dating back to her debut in Iron Man 2 in 2010. Though Johansson’s portrayal of the character has been extremely popular among audiences, Marvel has been slow to give the character her own movie, until now.
This snail’s pace of development for such a high-profile female superhero has drawn much criticism from both the media and fandom alike, along with controversies surrounding Johansson being paid less than her male counterparts in the Avengers films. With the success of female-led films such as Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, many who support women’s representation are eyeing Black Widow to help elevate the role of women in the superhero genre – a movie genre that has traditionally been dominated by male characters.
But the real question when it comes to the Black Widow film isn’t so much ‘are audiences ready for a female superhero?’ After all, the success of recent female-led superhero movies and characters proves that they are. No, in this politically charged time period during an election year, the better question is, ‘are audiences ready for a Russian superhero?’
It’s been no secret that for the past three and a half years in the United States, there has been a Red Scare going on akin to something one might have seen at the height of the McCarthy-era witch hunts. Russians, once again, seem to be America’s ‘go to’ bad guys.
Yes, comrades, Russian hysteria is back in style.
Not since the Reagan era have we seen Russians blamed for so many of America’s ills. Seeing too many Facebook ads for Trump? Blame the Russians. Those mean tweets about your favorite movie? Russian bots are the culprit. Don’t like a particular politician? They must be a Russian agent!
In such a politically charged atmosphere as the current one, can a movie like Black Widow actually succeed? After all, from the trailer, it seems obvious the film is going to explore the character’s Russian roots, teaming her up with other Russian characters including the Red Guardian, the soviet equivalent of Captain America, played by David Harbour. In fact, the film’s plot has Natasha Romanoff going back to Russia after the events of Captain America: Civil War to confront a dangerous conspiracy directly tied to her past.
Everything about this movie screams ‘Russia, Russia, Russia!’
This issue probably wasn’t of concern when the Black Widow film first started to be developed back in 2014, when Marvel was paving the way for the character to spin off into her own solo film. But then the whole Russiagate whirlwind happened, and now Marvel might actually be worried – at least a little bit.
It’s not unheard of for political attitudes to negatively affect movies. Just last year, the premise of the Universal Studios movie The Hunt – a film about rich liberal elites hunting down and killing blue-collar Republicans for sport – caused an outcry that forced the studio to delay the movie’s release due to all the bad press it was receiving.
The #MeToo movement also greatly affected a number of films. One of the notable ones was All the Money in the World, which actually had to do extensive reshoots to replace accused actor Kevin Spacey after a large marketing campaign in which Spacey was prominently featured. The fear was that the movie would be boycotted by those who passionately supported the #MeToo movement, and rather than delay the film, it was deemed the better solution was to remove Spacey from the picture entirely.
So, there is indeed precedence for political climates to affect films, and Russia has been at the forefront of political news for quite some time in the United States – at least since 2016. But the danger of a ‘Russian’ angle in Black Widow might not necessarily be outrage, but apathy. Americans have been practically bludgeoned over the head with so many news stories about Russia, that they may be sick and tired of it by now – to the point where they may choose to pass on seeing a film like Black Widow.
Whether or not the apathy around ‘Russian hysteria’ is enough to tank a major film from one of Hollywood’s most successful studios remains to be seen. Can Americans overcome their distrust of all things ‘Russia’ to make Black Widow a hit? Is the Marvel brand and the popularity of Scarlett Johansson enough to balance the apathy audiences have over being bombarded by negative Russian news stories? Will the “pro-woman” sentiment outweigh the ‘anti-Russia’ sentiment among audiences?
I suppose we will find out when Black Widow is released in April. But if there’s anything this ‘Russian hysteria’ has made clear, it’s this:
The 1980s called. It wants its bad guys back.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.