Hypable spoke to the organizers behind the #WeWantWidow movement, as fans around the world rally for broader representation of Marvel’s beloved super-spy.
Kicking off on June 6 with an international series of flash-mobs, the #WeWantWidow campaign has continued to gain momentum online. The brainchild of Kristin Rielly, founder of RiellyGeek.com, the movement gives fans around the world a chance to voice their love for the character — and their frustration with her lack of representation in Marvel merchandise.
“I’ve seen so many posts and tweets expressing the inequality of promotion for the female Avenger, but it doesn’t seem to be making a difference,” Rielly tells Hypable. “Marvel and Disney needed to really see the large fanbase she has, and that could only be accomplished by giving them a sea of Black Widow images. I thought if we had a day where tons of Black Widow cosplayers started appearing all over the globe, that would be the best way to send a really loud and positive message that we want more Widow.”
According to Rielly, who worked with Jay Justice to craft and preserve the integrity of the rallies, Saturday’s #WeWantWidow events represent the first time a cosplay flash-mob has occurred across multiple cities. Participants were recruited through word-of-mouth, and events in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Seattle — to name only a few — were organized by City Captains in Black Widow-themed cosplay.
“It was all just pure initiative from women (and men) who wanted to get involved and make it happen,” says Autumn Wheelock, who captained the #WeWantWidow mob in New York City. “We had over twenty people come in cosplays and outfits… we even had four guys in black and red, plus a Hawkeye out to show support.”
Though Rielly was hopeful about the success of the event, the snowballing response to #WeWantWidow proved to be a gratifying surprise.
“I was totally floored when we got our hashtag trending!” she says — but the event’s popularity didn’t stop at the computer screen. “Once #WeWantWidow start[ed] appearing with flash-mobs in city after city, other fans started posting their photos of Black Widow. There were even two unscheduled flash-mobs that launched just from hearing about our event.”
Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a., Black Widow, has always been a popular character in Marvel comics, but support for the brilliant and conflicted assassin has exploded with Romanoff’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Played by Scarlet Johansson in Iron Man 2, Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Widow has become emblematic of many fans’ desire to see strong female superheroes presented onscreen.
“She’s got some heck of a back story,” Rielly enthuses. “She doesn’t have superpowers, but she’s no damsel either. She’s badass and I think her fans feel empowered by that.”
Unfortunately, Widow has also become a symbol of the lack of representation of female characters, both in Marvel’s films and in their merchandising. Fans have rallied around the concept of a Johansson-led Black Widow film since her character came out swinging in The Avengers, but Marvel has not publicly expressed any interest in the idea.
“To say she can’t support a movie is such garbage,” Wheelock says, noting how thoroughly Romanoff was boxed into the “Just One Woman” trope. “For so long, for girls, she was the only female, suited-up hero. The only lady Avenger.”
The situation is even more dismal on the merchandising side of things, where products featuring Black Widow have been incredibly difficult to find. The character has been omitted from apparel designs, photoshopped out of product-placement, and even outright replaced with other characters in toy sets. Even actor Mark Ruffalo took note of the lack of Black Widow merchandise, and publicly asked Disney to step up their representation.
Wheelock, who has worn Black Widow cosplay at conventions for several years, notes that it’s not only young girls who want to bring the character into their own lives.
“I have met little boys at conventions, in my cosplay, who were so excited to see Black Widow,” she says. “So to say boys don’t like her? [It’s] not true.”
With the success of both the flash-mobs and viral #WeWantWidow campaign, Rielly looks forward to positive change on the horizon.
“I hope that what we’ve accomplished inspires the beginning of a more inclusive superhero universe for future movies and merchandise,” she says. “I hope that the companies making awesome movies and fantastic toys and clothes realize that they can do even more because they have a bigger demographic than they originally thought. And I hope this inspires more geek girls to stand up and continue to have a strong and positive voice for inclusion in our community.”
“Keep tweeting Marvel and Disney,” Wheelock urges. “Let them know. Show them your cosplays, your outfits, your art, show them the stuff you have bought so they can see, tangibly, that people are buying it.”
Fans, Wheelock says, must use their own spaces to keep the #WeWantWidow message in front of decision-makers. “Keep the tag alive,” she says. “If you’re going to a con, make a sign, take pictures with other Widows.”
Rielly feels similarly. “If we continue to share this hashtag and [Black Widow’s] image in a positive manner like we’ve been doing, this will create more inclusion going forward.”