Black Widow Fights Gender Norms… Or Does She?

Noe Lee and Roya Yaghmal

“I’m not the killer that little girls call their hero,”

In the 2021 hit movie Black Widow, actresses Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh light up the big screen with their empowering roles as Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova. The film featured action-packed fight scenes paired with the heart-wrenching themes of humanity and family. Natasha Romanoff’s past finally catches up to her as she struggles to find a balance between who she was and who she wants to be. The movie follows Romanoff throughout her journey of self-discovery and reconciliation with her past self. 

While Black Widow aimed to portray the lead heroines as empowering role models, some would argue that it lacked originality. Although the film brought a new female lead to the screens, Rotten Tomatoes critic Deborah Ross claims that “women is its only decent idea,” and the objectification of women in power continues to be present in cinema. Yet again, we see the heroine catering to male audiences in scandalously executed costuming. Actress Gal Gadot received similar backlash for her role as Wonder Woman in 2017. Though the idea of a feminist woman in the super-universe was initially an excitement, it proved to be a greater feat than director Patty Jenkins had intended. Slate writer Christina Cauterucci says that the chance of Wonder Woman being a female role model was overshadowed by its prevailing occupation with the titular heroine’s sex appeal.” Critics of Black Widow preach this same story three years later. 

When Hollywood’s solution to an oversexualized heroine is two oversexualized heroines, the audience may start to wonder where the problem really lies. Though Black Widow may not have accomplished its goal of female empowerment, it was still a super fun watch and definitely deserves a spot in the Marvel Hall of Fame.