In a column for the Washington Post, Monica Hesse writes about rewatching all 21 movies in the Marvel cinematic universe in advance of the release of Avengers: Endgame. The differences between Marvel’s first films and their most recent efforts, she writes, “reveals a lot about how far we’ve come” in terms of how female characters are portrayed.
In the original Iron Man, which premiered 11 years ago, she notes that billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) repeatedly sexually harasses his personal aide Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). After inviting her to dance with him at a public company event, Stark asks Potts whether his romantic overtures make her uncomfortable given their professional relationship.
“Well, you look great, you smell great,” Stark tells Potts after she acknowledges feeling weird about the situation. “But I could fire you if that would take the edge off.”
At the time of Iron Man’s release, Hesse writes, a boss threatening to fire an employee if she doesn’t sleep with him wasn’t a particularly controversial joke. Similarly, Iron Man 2 in 2010 featured a plot line in which Stark tries to hire Natasha Romanova/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) because he finds her attractive — while Potts seeks to block Rushman’s hiring for the same reason. The sexualization and professional diminishment of women characters in these early Marvel films was rampant, Hesse notes.
But just five years later, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Potts is no longer a lowly assistant, but the CEO of Stark Industries. And Black Widow isn’t reduced to the tired trope of the femme fatale, as her character develops a platonic friendship with her colleague Hawkeye — as well as with his wife and children. Earlier this year, Marvel released its first woman-led film, Captain Marvel, to massive critical and financial success. Marvel’s evolution, Hesse argues, reflects an evolution in popular American culture. And everyone, Marvel included, is benefiting from that.
Below, see Brie Larson, star of Captain Marvel, speak at the 2019 Women in the World Summit.
Read the full story at the Washington Post.