There’s a moment in Black Widow, Marvel’s long-awaited solo vehicle for Scarlett Johansson’s eponymous Avenger, when Yelena, played by a Russky-accented, vodka-dry-humored Florence Pugh, is strangely looking forward to a new jacket. “Look how cool it is!” she roars in delight at the stunned Avenger. “It has so many pockets!”
This is a joke written for female viewers (but no doubt some Marvel male fans are well aware of the appalling lack of pockets in women’s clothing). Behind it you can feel the fingerprints of the director of the film, its co-writer (the picture credits are shared by Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson and Eric Pearson) and his two female leading actors. The whole film is Marvel’s most feminist work to date: Natasha (Johansson) and Yelena are not only the main characters, but also the action stars who make their way through Eastern Europe with cars, avalanches and helicopters, and both are noticeably unhindered by love interests. In fact, all but one major male characters are either evil (Ray Winstone) or largely useless (David Harbor).
All of this tells us something very intriguing about how Marvel CEO Kevin Feige and other Disney executives are thinking about developing the world’s largest cinema franchise. Hold on to your lycra, movie brothers – the future of Marvel is feminine.
It’s tempting to think about superhero stories like soccer. Both belong to that weird and shrinking category of leisure activities that, despite equal voting rights and paternity leave, well, remain kind of stupid. “No!” I hear legions of female soccer fans and Marvel fanatics crying, but when England play Denmark in the European Championship semi-finals, all you have to do is count boys against girls in every pub to see the inconvenient truth. The same applies to the cinemas when Black Widow hits theaters on Friday, if only poorly – according to a survey by Statista from 2018, 45 percent of the male and 38 percent of the female respondents said they had seen one or more Avengers films to have ). Of course, female comic book fans are a force and a growing – a high-profile 2014 poll based on cracking Facebook likes briefly concluded that they outnumbered their male counterparts.
Traditionally, however, women are a minority in the comic fandom. Superheroes represent a specifically male piece of nerd pop culture – the cowardly student who appropriates secret superpowers is, after all, the genre’s founding myth. But all of this is beginning to change.