Then some critics jumped in to say the film was hardly a paragon of perfect feminist politics, simply replacing men with women in a violent action film, and others shot back with responses to that charge. The debate over the film was as robust and passionate as it might be over a foundational feminist text — the difference being that millions of pop culture fans were taking part.
All this came on the heels of the furious battles over the portrayal of Black Widow in the new Avengers. Was she too dependent on men in her storyline? Were people overreacting to her role? Critics zeroed in on the scene where she describes herself as a “monster” because of her forcible sterilization during her training as an assassin. For many watching, it wasn’t enough to simply have female characters kick ass — they wanted to get rid of sexist tropes, too. “Can’t we be past this already?” writes Ariana Vives at Bitch Media. “It’s bad enough Marvel still has no concrete plans for a solo Black Widow movie, now Whedon has fallen back on the creepiest of tropes: before a woman can be a hero, she must be bodily violated.”
Of course, the slut-shaming rampage that the stars of the film went on, leaked Sony emails revealing gender cluelessness, and the disappearance of Joss Whedon from Twitter (although not because he was hounded off by feminists) show that it’s still a discussion worth having. No artist or director should be beholden to a singular moral vision, even an unfailingly forward-thinking one. Storytelling and character development and all the elements that make entertainment meaningful are paramount. Yet the vision many fans are advocating for — which often requires axing boring tropes in favor of fresh storylines — make those stories better.
It’s clear that studios are slowly, often unwillingly, inching towards a more progressive vision. Just look at the “new Avengers” who are due to show up again in the next Captain America film. They seem like poster children for a more inclusive and accurate vision of a group of heroes. Similarly, the new Fantastic Four are looking significantly more interesting and appealing than the last crew, mostly thanks to Jordan’s arrival (Miles Teller doesn’t hurt, either).
This debate has the contours of an old message board argument from the early days of Internet flamewars — yet what’s amazing about this round of fighting is that big-budget films seem to very slowly be responding to progressive critiques.