Do I even have to put a SPOILER WARNING here? Because we will be talking about Black Widow, so…yeah…potential spoilers.
I have short hair. Most days I can leave it down and it doesn’t cause any distractions or issues with my day-to-day activities. But, if I’m going to be doing things like cleaning or travelling, I’m going to somehow put it back out of my face and out of the way. The last thing I want to worry about when I’m active is my hair.
Can you imagine fighting to take down the universe’s most terrifying and powerful villains with your hair in your face? Because pretty much until Endgame and this movie, our mightiest female heroes have worn their hair down. And if you’re wondering why I care about this so much, let me explain. But first, a brief summary of where we are now that Black Widow has released.
Eleven years after her first appearance in Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is finally getting her story. Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widow shines the light on the shadows that have been Natasha’s elusive past. We’ve gotten some brief glimpses into her Russian training and connections and we’ve seen hints to the emotional burdens she wears. Since we can’t go back to the very beginning of her story, I wasn’t sure how we were going to see the path between who Natasha was, and who Natasha now is to us.
As she begins her time on the run after breaking the Sokovian Accords, Natasha is pulled back into a mission she long-believed was handled. She describes Budapest (an event she and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) recall during the first Avengers), as the final step to her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D., effectively finalizing the cleansing of the “red in her ledger.” But she was wrong. A mysterious package arrives at her safe house with a clue about who needs her and she has to seek out the very people she once felt betrayed by.
In the later movies, Natasha thinks of the Avengers as her only family. But we quickly learn here that she once had a sister, a mother, and a father. Even though it was artificially made as a cover for a covert Russian operation, there were a few years where Natasha had a normal life. But it was not to last.
Her “father” was actually Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) aka Red Guardian aka Russian Captain America. He and brilliant scientist and fellow Widow (and “Mom”) Melina (Rachel Weisz) had Natasha and “sister” Yelena (Florence Pugh) under their wing until the time came for the girls to begin their training at the Red Room. Together they must work to finish the mission Natasha started all those years ago.
The target? One of the creepiest villains I’ve seen in the MCU yet, Dreykov (Ray Winstone makes him almost TOO real). Mastermind behind the Red Room – an elite training facility that transforms orphan girls into world-wide assassins that work to keep Dreykov in power over the world’s most influential leaders – Dreykov has perfected a mind-control serum with Melina’s genius that ensures his Widows will deliver on his every command. He exploits both their vulnerability and sexuality and rewrites their reality – until Yelena defects and Natasha jumps in to free the Widows from Dreykov and destroy the Red Room for good.
How does any of this lead into a conversation about hair. Well, let’s think about it. For one, Black Widow’s hair has been a topic of conversation since Johansson brought her to life on the big screen. People complained it was too short, it was too long, it was too curly, it was too straight, it went blonde, etc. Here we have someone who regularly takes out pretty scary and powerful enemies, and we are talking about if her hair is right to the character. Dude – I just always wanted to know why it was down? In Endgame, we finally see her hair up for most of the movie, maybe because in space it’s more acceptable? Or because the scene had been set for years’ worth of searching for ways to undo all that Thanos had destroyed, and suddenly it didn’t matter? For whatever reason, I was thrilled to see exceptionally powerful women go into full battle mode with their hair up in Black Widow.
The contrast between Yelena wearing her hair up from the beginning but Natasha evidently having had to take a journey for it to be acceptable to wear her hair up is hopefully a glimpse into the future treatment of female super heroes in the MCU. Yelena has the same sarcastic wit of Captain Marvel, the same desire for what was fake to be real as Wanda, and the same moral compass of Gamora’s change of heart. She is set up to take on the mantle of Natasha and she’s not here to play games. And as silly as it’s going to seem to people, seeing her with her hair up throughout the film gives me confidence that female superheroes are being equipped to fight the same battles as their male counterparts. In continuation of illustrating this point, I give you the original Avengers:
- Captain America. Helmet. I don’t know how effective it is but it’s there. And he’s enhanced.
- Iron Man. Obviously. And he’s enhanced.
- Thor. Yes his hair is down but he can also fly and call lightning to his very hands. And he is a god.
- Bruce Banner. One word: Hulk. And he’s enhanced.
- Hawkeye. No head covering, but he mostly fights from a distance…because you know, #bowandarrows.
Captain Marvel had a helmet and a much more protective suit but, to this day, people condemn her character – even though she has been the closest one to receiving equal treatment. And she’s enhanced. Natasha fights on the ground, hand-to-hand, and her hair is curled and flowing the whole time. Now I don’t know much about the comics, but, as an average movie-watcher, it’s always bothered me. So forgive me if such a trivial detail has had such an impact on me. Because it demonstrates strength. And it’s just one piece of how Black Widow successfully created a storyline laced with vulnerability in such a way that made the women stronger as opposed to needy. Hair down to hair up is a key element of this transformation.
For years, Dreykov (Ray Winstone and one of the creepiest villains-to-date) exploited the emotional vulnerability and the sexuality of orphaned and discarded girls and controlled them in order to maintain his power over the world’s most influential leaders. We know this because we have seen Natasha use it in previous films, whether she is using staged modelling photos to distract Tony from her identity or secretly interrogating Loki by using her past as a tool to get what she wants out of him. She was trained to do that, and so were the hundreds of Widows trained after her. The ponytail, the braids, even the earrings…all of them work together as a visual representation of the strength of these women to do what needs to be done. In Black Widow, they are being freed from the constraints of how they have been viewed and used by those around them.
And for me at least, it’s about dang time. If I’m not going to clean with my hair in my face, I sure as heck ain’t saving the world with it in my face. And now my heroes don’t have to either.
Black Widow is now available in theatres and on Disney+.