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That Time The Avengers Slut Shamed Black Widow

Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner’s tasteless joke probably wasn’t meant to be harmful.  But it still is.

During the promotional tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner were asked a question by Digital Spy regarding their thoughts on fellow Avenger Black Widow being romantically involved with Bruce Banner, instead of one of their characters.

“She’s a slut,” Renner said laughing.  Chris Evans joined him, adding “a complete whore.”

It was pretty awful to hear Captain America say that.  And I wasn’t the only one who thought so… there was a huge backlash online to the duo’s lousy attempt at a “bitter ex” joke.  Because yes… they were absolutely joking– and I highly doubt either one of these men was espousing some deeply-held personal belief through their remarks– but this by no means excuses what they said.  Their “joke” used the same hurtful, misogynistic words that have plagued our society, impeded the egalitarian ideals of feminism and caused so much harm to victims of bullying, shaming and abuse all over the world.

The whole thing served as a reminder that, as much as we (and Marvel) associate these actors with the super heroes they play… they are all mutually exclusive.  By definition, Steve Rogers would have called Renner out on his shit to his face, instead of laughing it away and joining in on the bad joke.  It’s a bummer that this didn’t happen in real life… and it brings into harsher focus the line between fictional characters and the real life dudes who play them, a line I was, until now, happy to perpetuate as charmingly vague and fuzzy.

To their credit, both actors apologized for what they said… and one of those apologies even felt genuine.

Said Chris Evans: “Yesterday we were asked about the rumors that Black Widow wanted to be in a relationship with both Hawkeye and Captain America. We answered in a very juvenile and offensive way that rightfully angered some fans. I regret it and sincerely apologize.”

Renner’s response reads much more dickish (you can read it at EW, because they obtained the statements from both actors… and– let’s be honest– they can probably use the traffic).

Of course, legions of manchildren descended on this issue in the meantime, attempting to shake the legitimacy of the criticism against what the actors said.  This is not surprising, even in a circumstance like this, where these trolls literally do not have a leg to stand on (prosthetic or otherwise).  Those guys are assholes, and they are wrong, plain and simple.

What DID surprise me, as I browsed through reactions, was how many (perfectly justified) critics of Renner and Evans said they weren’t surprised to hear that these guys made the comments they did.  Really?  Because I certainly was.  There’s a lot of reasons Marvel Studios has achieved the level of success it has, but one of the big ones is that they have presented themselves as vastly more inclusive than their competitors in terms of representation.  Every movie they have released has featured at least one strong, well-written female character, ranging from a major supporting player like Pepper Potts, to a co-star like the badass Gamora.  They have been developing Captain Marvel– their first film to star a female super hero– for years now, and one of the main reasons it’s taken them this long is because they are fully committed to getting it right on every level.  And Marvel is learning– they were keenly aware of the #WheresGamora movement last summer, and we’re already seeing a lot more presence for Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron‘s merchandising.  This is not a coincidence.

I’m not suggesting that Marvel is responsible for creating any feminist ideals within pop culture– nor that they did anything for a reason other than realizing their profits could increase if they addressed the WHOLE public, instead of just the half with linuses– but they have helped to popularize the notion of female representation in genre movies.  And we all know Marvel Studios runs a very tight ship, which is how they’ve been able to create and manage this impossibly intricate shared universe of theirs.

Between these two facts, Joss Whedon’s governance of this stable of creators and actors, and the mighty Disney PR machine backing it all up, I would have assumed anything contrary to the message of inclusion and fair representation would be met with discipline, or at the very least deftly wrangled away from the public eye.  So hell yes, Renner and Evans’ remarks came as a total shock to me.

What long-term impact will this have on Marvel’s cinematic universe?  Because of all the plans already in place for the next five years, I’d guess not too much.  My hope is that this ugly day in Marvel history can serve as a symbol, a reminder of how important it is for all of us– whether we’re bloggers, fans, Presidents of a movie studio– to keep pushing for social justice.  To put value in respect for one another, and to protect ALL the people who love this thing we love.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s what The Avengers would do.  And that’s good enough motivation for me.

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