The Avengers (or "Avengers Assemble" as it’s known in the UK) is, in my opinion, one of the best superhero movies EVER for many reasons, but chief among them is Scarlett Johansson’s reprisal of her "Iron Man 2" character Black Widow -- aka Natasha Romanoff.
Which is why she was justifiably miffed when at a press conference, her co-star Robert Downey Jr. was asked “Throughout Iron Man 1 and 2, Tony Stark started off as a very egotistical character but learns how to fight as a team. And so how did you approach this role, bearing in mind that kind of maturity as a human being when it comes to the Tony Stark character, and did you learn anything throughout the three movies that you made?” while she got: “To get into shape for Black Widow did you have anything special to do in terms of the diet, like did you have to eat any specific food, or that sort of thing?”
Watch it here at 3:50 -- she looks so unimpressed, but still handles it graciously
As one of the more "human" characters in the film, Black Widow doesn’t have any of the superpowers that Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man enjoy. She can’t fly, she doesn’t have a mighty hammer or super strength or a magic metal suit. Instead she has to rely solely on her wits, agility, strength and bravery to fight the evil earth-conquering aliens -- and boy does she pull it off with aplomb.
Of course she looks amazing, but refreshingly, this is one film that doesn’t focus unduly on her body. It’s there, but it’s there to serve a purpose -- namely, saving the world. This is one of the best parts I’ve ever seen Scarlett in; her Black Widow is at turns sulky, sarcastic, courageous and conflicted. There’s a subtlety in her expressions and speech, especially in the way she interacts with Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk (another excellent performance) which I haven’t seen since "Ghost World."
I think this is in large part down to Joss Whedon’s skill as a director; since he made the original Buffy movie, then the legendary TV show and all his other projects (Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse), he’s always given women the kickass parts and the best lines. But it’s mainly down to Scarlett’s skill as an intelligent, talented actress.
So why-oh-why-oh-why do journalists still feel compelled to quiz her about her body, her diet, her workout regime? Yes, the Avengers all wear figure-hugging costumes, but no one asked Chris Evans whether he went on a juice diet to slip into his skintight Captain America suit (or as Tony Stark calls it, a "spangly outfit").
Quite frankly, there’s more gratuitous attention paid to Hulk’s (CGI-ed) moobs than to Scar-Jo’s "curves." If the camera's objectifying anyone, it's the chaps -- so why doesn’t "Thor" actor Chris Hemsworth get asked what products he used to get his flaxen locks so silky? Are editors pondering how Tony Stark achieves such a precisely trimmed beard?*
I don’t blame Scarlett for being fed up. It reminded me of when a reporter asked Hillary Clinton for Bill’s opinion on something and she briskly replied "My husband is not the Secretary of State -- I am.” (Ka-pow!)
Scarlett recently wrote on the Huffington Post about how she got fit and strong (not skinny and sexy) to play the physically demanding part of Black Widow, and also addressed the media’s never-ending obsession with celebrities and their weight, writing of those gossip magazines with their vile red arrows and yellow circles of shame; “The media has packaged for us an unhealthy idea that one must suffer loss, be in the middle of a nervous breakdown, feel pressure from friends or coworkers, battle divorce or have a bitter dispute with an ex in order to get into acceptable bikini shape.”
I’ve interviewed Scarlett and she is exactly as she comes across in her article (and in her comeback to the hapless hack); intelligent, funny and a staunch supporter of women’s rights. Just because she is beautiful, famous and well paid, that doesn’t make her "fair game" to be patronized, any more than any other woman.
*Anyone else with such farcical facial hair would be a laughing stock, but somehow Robert DJ pulls it off.