Welp, We May Have an Idea of What the Problem Is

[Content Note: Misogyny; sterilization.]

This interview with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige is a mess.

He's asked about criticism of Marvel's portrayal and prominence of female characters in their extremely successful film franchises, and he starts out with the most yawn-inducing pap in Marvel's defense: "There have been strong, powerful, intelligent women in the comics for decades. "And if you go back to look at our movies—whether it's Natalie Portman in the Thor films, Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man or Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers—our films have been full of smart, intelligent, powerful women." He added that Marvel has always "gone for the powerful woman versus the damsel in distress."

It's certainly interesting that he lists two non-superhero female characters and Marvel's most prominent female superhero thus far (Black Widow) in the same list, without a trace of irony that he's proving the very point. Would Captain America be listed alongside mortal sidekicks in a list of male representation in superhero films? Of course not.

(Which is to say nothing of the fact that I feel his contention all of those female characters are "powerful" is debatable. Nor the fact that they are all thin, straight, white, cis, young women.)

Feige then segues into addressing the criticism about the lack of headlining female superheroes:
"They haven't been the title characters up till this point and that has changed now that we've announced Captain Marvel, in which the title character will be Carol Danvers," he says, referring to a popular character from the comic books who acquires special powers after her genes fuse with alien ones during an explosion.
What he doesn't mention is that Captain Marvel's "release date, and that of Black Panther, the studio's first solo film for a person of color, were both moved back so that a new Spider-Man film could open in 2017."

He does, however, insist that Captain Marvel "is unrelated to the calls for more substantial female characters in Marvel's cinematic universe, where film and television projects are typically planned years in advance, with releases now scheduled up to 2028." In fact, he has a lot to say about how the demand for more female characters is definitely for sure being ignored!
Marvel, he repeats, is not reacting to such critiques.

"It would paralyse you if you were trying to develop a story or character that is going to please everyone on the Internet. You would curl up into a ball and never do anything."
That sounds familiar! It seems like I've heard that from every male filmmaker who is criticized for a cavernous lack of equitable female representation, who repeat this garbage line like it's made out of solid gold and without any seeming awareness or concern that there shouldn't be any urgency to "please" aggressively misogynistic fanboys who caterwaul about destroyed childhoods when they don't get all straight white male superheroes all the time.

It's funny, ahem, how the observation that "you'll destroy yourself trying to make everyone happy" never seems to be invoked by a male filmmaker who has alienated the most execrably sexist fanboys on the internet and satisfied marginalized people seeking visible representation. Funny, ahem, how it's always the marginalized folks who are the ones disappointed by the "can't please everyone!" compromises.

(With the glaring exception of Paul Feig's hilariously contemptuous responses to Ghostbusters fanboys.)


Feige then went on to defend Black Widow from criticism, even though all criticism is valid, except for how it's not. Or something.
Mr Feige is quick to defend Marvel over what some saw as a sexist portrayal of Black Widow, Johansson's character in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, which triggered a lively debate among critics and fans.

Feminists took issue with the fact that the script had Black Widow believing she is a "monster" because she was sterilised and cannot have children and that another character comments about how she has flirted with multiple members of the Avengers team.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron stars Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans were also accused of sexism after calling the Black Widow character a "slut" and a "whore" in an interview, although they said the remarks were in jest.

"In terms of essays written about Black Widow in Ultron, I think they're all valid. Everybody's opinions are valid," Mr Feige says.

But "to suggest that female characters can't have multiple dimensions is also ludicrous".

"That Black Widow went through a programme in which she was forced to have her reproductive organs removed is probably a little upsetting to her. So that people would be upset that she's upset - that's a little strange," he adds.
This is just the most mendacious misrepresentation of the criticism being made. The general critique was not that Black Widow shouldn't be upset, but that having her refer to herself as a "monster" because she couldn't bear children was a shitty commentary that dehumanized women who can't/don't have children and entrenched definitions of womanhood in terms of one's ability and willingness to be a childbearing vessel.

I would call Feige's misrepresentation of the criticism a strawman, but that would be an insult to strawmen, which are far more substantial than that wisp of shameful deflection.

And then came this, because of course:
"And there's no bigger advocate for women than Joss Whedon," he says, referring to Age Of Ultron's director, who has been a vocal proponent of women's rights. "To suggest he's done anything to undermine that is ludicrous."
Criticizing the quality of Marvel's female characters is "ludicrous." Criticizing Joss Whedon is "ludicrous." Sure.

I have an idea for Mr. Feige, for Marvel's first fat female superhero: Me, in a bright purple superhero costume with a billowing cape, and emblazoned across my chest in gold lettering: "LUDICROUS." My superpower? UNDILUTED CONTEMPT.

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