Black Widows and Wonder(ful) Women

After three delays, Black Widow, the first film of MCU Phase Four, finally released in June 2021—thirteen months after originally planned. While this is her first solo film, Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson), has been featured in various films, from her debut in 2010’s Iron Man 2 to her sacrificial death in Avengers: Endgame. With each appearance, we are given small hints about her dark past, and the mystery surrounding the former assassin grows. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Widow explores the people and events that mold Natasha into becoming a top S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and super spy.

 

Like so many other MCU films, a key theme of Black Widow is family. But unlike the biological or adoptive bonds many of the other MCU characters share, Natasha’s family is a fraud. Her parents are really Russian spies posing as an American family along with her younger “sister,” Yelina Belova. After stealing S.H.I.E.L.D. information and escaping to Cuba, the family separates, with Natasha and Yelina being sent to the infamous Red Room to train to become assassins. This sets the stage for two important themes that run throughout the film: the abuse suffered by vulnerable girls and women and the importance of fathers.

#MeToo Meets the MCU
Black Widow is notably influenced by the #MeToo movement, which was a response to the abuse that women have experienced in Hollywood and beyond. Scarlett Johansson commented on the importance of showing women “coming through these shared experiences of trauma” and “supporting one other” after their brutal training and the horrific acts they are forced to commit in the film. Young girls are kidnapped and trained to be assassins. Their bodies are ravaged by having their reproductive organs ripped out, turning them from potential vessels of life to instruments of death. They are subjected to a chemical that causes them to be mind-controlled by the evil General Dreykov.

Sadly, all of this is far from science fiction. In real life girls around the world are targeted by human traffickers for evil purposes. They are drugged, abused, and raped. Children are used as forced labor, soldiers, and sex slaves. And this does not just happen in other countries around the world, human trafficking occurs in the U.S. as well.

At the end of the film, Dreykov says the girls he takes are “ trash” thrown into the street, and that he “recycles” this trash and gives it (them) purpose. He claims that girls are the “only natural resource that the world has too much of.” Unfortunately, this degrading view of women is not unique to movie supervillains. In many cultures across history, women have been seen as being inferior to men. They have thus been treated as second-class citizens—or when taken to extremes, viewed as property or even killed—simply for being female. This is a horrible distortion of God’s design for men and women, as women and men have been equally human since the very beginning. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Women bear God’s image just as much as men do.

Furthermore, Jesus always showed great respect towards women, even those who were social outcasts or condemned by the religious leaders, such as Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery. The Bible teaches men to love their wives with the same sacrificial love Christ had towards the Church ( Eph. 5:25). Historically, everywhere it has spread, Christianity has elevated the status and treatment of women.

Our current culture may have a twisted idea of how Christianity views women, thinking that Christian women are nothing more than handmaidens or baby-makers, but this could not be further from the truth. Women are just as valuable as men. They are treasured daughters of the King of the universe, and should be treated as such. Girls should also be shown great love and care from their earthly fathers.

Fathers and Daughters
Black Widow also explores a theme common throughout the MCU: the influence of a father on his children. While we never learn about Natasha’s biological father, she has two father figures in her life: her undercover-spy father, Alexei Shostakof, a.k.a. Red Guardian, and the villainous director of the Black Widow program, General Dreykov. Both are bad fathers in different ways. Dreykov is the most obvious, as he kidnaps orphaned and “undesirable” young girls and grooms them into becoming assassins. While not being outright evil, Alexei is still a bad father in that he cares only about his own glory and allows his “adopted” daughters to be taken by Dreykov to become Widows. When he is reunited with his girls years later, he has a twisted sense of pride in the ruthless killers they have become. Redemptively, by the end of the film, he discovers a paternal responsibility to protect his family.

As we have previously noted, fathers play a critical role in the lives of their children. Fatherlessness has many detrimental effects on children, from increased drug and alcohol use to greater risk of criminal activity and incarceration. But fathers also have a specific influence on their daughters. An article by the Institute for Family Studies says that the father-daughter relationship is “one of the most powerful and vital relationships to individuals, communities, and nations. For instance, fathers have a profound impact on their daughters’ body image, clinical depression, eating disorders, self-esteem, and life satisfaction….” The article also states that the most important contribution may be “in the area of sexual development and activity and romantic relationships.” Fathers ought to be their daughter’s “first love,” as “[t]he father-daughter relationship is the one that best teaches young women about true love and intimacy, self-worth, and respect” While an evil man may tear a woman down and devalue her, a good father helps his daughter become a woman, making her more confident and capable of healthy relationships.

Conclusion
The MCU has dealt with serious real-world topics before, such as war profiteering in Iron Man and racial issues in Black Panther. Black Widow continues this trend, addressing weighty issues such as abuse, child soldiers, and human trafficking. Through this, we witness the sad reality that girls and women have not always been given the same dignity and rights as men throughout history. This should especially upset followers of Christ, who must recognize that both men and women are created in God’s image, and are thus equally valuable. The weak and vulnerable, male and female alike, ought to be loved and protected, not used and abused.

Black Widow also shows us the importance of good fathers and father figures. While neglectful and vile fathers cause great harm to women by using them or devaluing and dehumanizing them, a good father provides his daughter a healthy self-image and helps her to become strong and confident. Despite what our culture and media may say, a girl doesn’t need to prove her worth by becoming a super-woman with great powers and abilities; she is already immeasurably valuable. And this value can never be decreased or increased, as it is based not on a girl’s looks, skills, or strengths, but simply on being a daughter of the Almighty God.

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox.