So Marvel have dropped the first trailer for Black Widow upon us and look, it’s looking like a hell of a ride. You’ve got Scarlett Johansson back from the dead as Natasha Romanoff (the film is set before Endgame), a very gritty spy vibe we haven’t really seen before in the MCU (Winter Soldier barely counts) and a bunch of new characters played by great actors like David Harbour, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz.
But for all the positives that are on display in the two or so minutes of Black Widow footage, the trailer unfortunately highlights a problematic aspect that Marvel has been wrestling with for years: unsavoury fat jokes for its male characters.
In the trailer, we’re introduced to David Harbour’s Alexei Shostakov (aka Red Guardian, Russia’s version of Captain America), who is a bit larger than the usual chiseled Marvel hero we’re used to seeing.
But rather than let critiques of the character’s physique remain unspoken, the Black Widow trailer contains two slightly unsavoury jokes about how fat he is. The first one references how he “still fits” his Red Guardian suit despite his weight gain and the second involves Rachel Weisz straight up telling him he’s fat.
Marvel has a history of making problematic fat jokes – Bro Thor being the big one that comes to mind. But whereas Bro Thor’s physical transformation was tied in to his emotional journey (albeit in messy fashion), there’s no hint that this’ll be the case for David Harbour’s Alexei. Thor was a main character whereas Alexei is there in service of Black Widow’s story.
Body positivity is one thing but it all feels pretty mean-spirited here as it’s clear Alexei’s weight is the butt of the joke. It’s clear Marvel still has a bit of work to do when it comes to body positive characters, particularly with its male heroes.
But hey, perhaps we’re judging the fat jokes in Black Widow a bit too early. After all, Marvel are known to keep its cards close to its chest and no one really knows what Scarlett Johansson is up to in her long-awaited solo flick.
We’ll just have to see whether David Harbour’s Red Guardian gets to display some emotional growth that’s tied to his heavier physique or whether it’s nothing more than a one-off gag when the film comes out in 2020.
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