Avengers: Mark Ruffalo Defends Whedon Against Accusations Of Sexism

Ben Bussey
UK Movies Writer

Following on from the tidal wave of online abuse hurled at Joss Whedon over perceived sexism in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron,’  Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo is the latest to leap to the defence of the writer-director.

Talking with fans in a Reddit AMA session, Ruffalo said, “I think it’s sad. Because I know how Joss feels about women, and I know that he’s made it a point to create strong female characters. 

“I think part of the problem is that people are frustrated that they want to see more women, doing more things, in superhero movies, and because we don’t have as many women as we should yet, they’re very, very sensitive to every single storyline that comes up right now.”

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As hard as it is to believe, Whedon - a famously outspoken feminist ever since the days of TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ - has been widely accused of sexism, and even misogyny by a vocal contingent of hard-line feminists since the US release of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron.’

While it was speculated that Whedon was driven to delete his Twitter account because of the abuse, the filmmaker has subsequently told Buzzfeed, “that is horses**t,” insisting he’s “used to” attacks from militant feminists, and saying he simply doesn’t want the distraction of social media while he settles back to start writing whatever his first post-Avengers project turns out to be.

However, this has not stopped many speaking out in Whedon’s defence, notably ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ writer-director James Gunn, who penned an eloquent response to the situation on Facebook.  

The militant feminist attacks on Whedon would seem to be primarily down to dissatisfaction with the way Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is developed in ‘Age of Ultron,’ showing a softer, more stereotypically feminine side via a burgeoning romance with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, and certain personal revelations that come out of that (which we won’t mention here in order to avoid spoilers).

Defending this plot thread, Ruffalo argues, “I think what’s beautiful about what Joss did with Black Widow - I don’t think he makes her any weaker, he just brings this idea of love to a superhero, and I think that’s beautiful.

“If anything, Black Widow is much stronger than Banner. She protects him. She does her job, and basically they begin to have a relationship as friends, and I think it’s a misplaced anger.

“I think that what people might really be upset about is the fact that we need more superhuman women. The guys can do anything, they can have love affairs, they can be weak or strong and nobody raises an eyebrow. But when we do that with a woman, because there are so few storylines for women, we become hyper-critical of every single move that we make because there’s not much else to compare it to.”

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Although Ruffalo does not comment on this, there has also been anger over Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, some complaining she was simply under-developed, others bemoaning the casting of a white American actress as the traditionally half-Jewish half-Romani gypsy character. 

Perhaps the most petty complaint of all would seem to be over a throwaway crack made by Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark in the already famous scene in which he attempts to lift Thor’s hammer, as Stark flippantly remarks when he becomes ruler of Agard he will “reinstate Prima Nocta” - i.e., the lord of the manor’s rights to sexual congress with any woman on her wedding night, as infamously occurs in ‘Braveheart.’

Hardly the only crass and sexist remark Stark has ever made in his five Marvel movies thus far, and again clearly intended in jest - and, we might underline, just because a character says it doesn’t mean the actor, writer or director believes it. 

For such stringently politically-minded viewers to go so vehemently against someone like Whedon who is so clearly on their side, it’s hard not to conclude that commentators might not simply be looking for things to get offended about.

Ruffalo stresses, “I know Joss really well. I know what his values are. And I think it’s sad, because in a lot of ways, there haven’t been as many champions [of women] in this universe as Joss is and will continue to be. 

“And I know it hurts him. I know it’s heavy on him. And the guy’s one of the sweetest, best guys, and I know him - as far as any man can be a champion for women, he is that.”

On a more positive note, Ruffalo added, “there’s an equal amount of people who find the love interest between Banner and Black Widow to be a big standout. And it’s very satisfying to people. 

“So it’s a movie. People are going to have their opinions. And that’s actually a great thing. The fact that this is a debate that’s coming out of this movie is probably a positive thing.

“I just don’t think that people should get personal with Joss, because he really is - of anyone - an advocate for women. He’s a deeply committed feminist.”

This, of course, is not the first accusation of sexism made against the ‘Age of Ultron’ team. Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner were widely criticised after jokingly calling Black Widow a “slut” in an interview, for which both actors have since apologised (rather reluctantly in Renner’s case).

Ruffalo, for his part, has already spoken out against the sexist discrepancies in the marketing of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and the absence of Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in a lot of the merchandise.

Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is in cinemas everywhere now.

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Picture Credit: Marvel