You might have seen a few more Russian spies this weekend than you're used to. That's because cosplay flash mobs in seventeen different cities (organized by Kristin Rielly) took to the streets to demand more merchandise and screen time for one of their favorite characters: Natasha Romanoff (also known as Black Widow). Fans have been clamoring for more representations of the character for months (actor Mark Rufflo, who plays The Hulk, even chimed in on Twitter). The #WeWantWidow is a creative new reiteration of the same demands.
"After seeing Age of Ultron and Black Widow’s [abrupt back-story scene], and writing several posts for Fashionably Geek about the new Avengers line this and that – almost all missing Black Widow images, I just had enough. To top it all off, Hasbro and Mattel both released action figures of Captain America and Iron Man on Black Widow’s motorcycle in her most badass AoU scene, instead of a Black Widow action figure. I’ve seen so many posts and tweets expressing outrage at the obvious inequality of Black Widow on film and in the stores, but I feel like Marvel and Disney aren’t getting it. I thought if Black Widows started popping up all over at the same time, that would send the clearest and loudest message."
(via The Mary Sue)
I can definitely relate to that. But will events like this really make a difference?
Annie N. Mouse at The Mary Sue talks about her experience working for Marvel after is was acquired by Disney, and advises fans on how to demand better representation in merchandise:
"While working at Marvel post-acquisition, I saw a deck circulated by Disney’s Brand Marketing team. I’m prohibited from sharing the slides, but the takeaway is that, unlike the actual demos, the desired demographics had no females in it whatsoever. I asked my supervisor why that was. Ever the pragmatist, he said, “That’s not why Disney bought us. They already have the girls’ market on lockdown.” ...
"When complaining about the lack of Black Widow, don’t just tweet at Marvel and Disney. Contact the licensees. They need to know there is a high demand. They need those numbers. Look into companies like Mad Engine, Hasbro, Jay Franco, etc. Look at the tags and find those companies. Demanding Frozen products for boys would be a balanced, conjunctive step."
It sounds like the problem is one of expectations. For decades, companies have split their toy lines across gender lines, and assume that consumers won't respond favorably (i.e. keep purchasing) if they no longer embrace this divide. Since the economy is still in recovery, they're making choices that they think are safe. So far, fans have proved loyal, making the Marvel Cinematic Universe one of the highest grossing film franchises of all time. But the bigger they are, the harder they fall. If the major distribution companies aren't listening now, their smaller competitors might be. How long are fans willing to wait before they move on to something else? My guess is: not much longer.