In the most recent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Franchise, Avengers: Age of Ultron, the superheroes encounter a superhuman who has the power of mind control. She uses her abilities to make the heroes hallucinate their worst fear which is either an incident from their past or the worst outcome in the future. When we see Natasha Romanov, a.k.a Black Widow’s worst fear, we see a window into a past filled with terrible childhood trauma. From early childhood, she was raised by the KGB to become an assassin. The program she was in involved strict discipline, brainwashing and learning how to kill without any emotion. In an intimate moment with Bruce Banner a.k.a The Hulk, she tells him that this program’s graduation ceremony involved being sterilized so that nothing could ever distract from her work as an assassin.
The magnitude of her trauma ultimately seems downplayed by the writers of Marvel. After Natasha experiences this painful flashback at the hands of a villain, she is able to shake it off after only taking a few moments to recover. While the other characters (who are all male) take time to deal with their own personal traumas: Thor struggles with the guilt he feels for the pain his brother Loki has inflicted upon his home realm as well as the people of Earth. Captain America comes to the painful realization that he doesn’t actually want to fight for peace because he enjoys war. Bruce Banner is constantly trying to reconcile his kind nature with the brutality of his alter-ego. All these men are allowed to be affected by these traumas, while Black Widow remains cool-headed, flirty, witty and way too normal for anyone who has been such a terrible childhood trauma.
While Natasha is always on her guard and can keep calm in threatening situations, she shows no signs of Post Traumatic Stress from what she experienced in childhood. She has no non-induced flashbacks, no nightmares, no phobias, no social anxiety, no substance abuse problems or any real trust issues. She does keep herself at a distance from the other Avengers but she doesn’t have any real qualms about trusting these men with her life and the life of everyone on Earth. It seems the writers and moviegoers at large aren’t interested in seeing a woman, especially an attractive woman who doesn’t live up to their ideals of what a woman should be. Natasha’s personality while tough still comes across too much like the All-American Girl-Next-Door than the Russian Girl, Interrupted she would mostly be.
It’s not to say that people who have experienced past-trauma can’t move forward. The issue lies with how the writers have ignored the implications her past could have on her psyche just so audiences can have a sexy cool girl to admire on screen. This movie has turned a powerful complex woman into the archetype of the “Team Mom” or the “Love Interest”. Like most women, Natasha does the majority of the emotional labor for the group; she looks after the mental wellbeing of her teammates while keeping her emotional needs to a minimum to better serve the group. For example, she is responsible for calming down the Hulk with a lullaby when his anger needs to be reeled in. I fear the franchise is changing her from the dynamic character with a past to a sweet and vulnerable romantic figure simply because Marvel still subscribes to the old adage “Sex Sells”.
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Avengers: Age of Ultron – Extended Trailer [HD]
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