A Call to Action (Figures): Black Widow, Quinjets, and Marvel’s Representation Problem
I’m getting sick of writing about lack of representation of women in action figures, and by extension in pop culture. Women make up more than fifty percent of our global population, and should make up around fifty percent of the characters we’re seeing in movies, book, television, and action figure lines. Taking a page out of Vida’s playbook (Vida is an organization dedicated to making the literary world less gender biased by counting how many male and female authors different magazines publish), I count only two female Avengers. I’m aware of Maria Hill, Sif, the women on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil, but the men are also lacking merchandising (with the exception of Coulson, but he’s only in a three-pack that also includes Maria Hill and a 1:6 scale figure). The other seven Avengers (if we’re counting War Machine and Falcon who are in as many battles on the Avengers’ side as Scarlett Witch) are men, which means only twenty-two percent of the Avengers are women, and it’s worse on the Age of Ultron toy front.
It’s a national news story that Black Widow was swapped out for Captain America in Hasbro’s Quinjet Playset. For Marvel and Hasbro this is incredibly embarrassing. (You can read more about it here, here, and here).
I see the possibility that it’s Cap’s bike (he opens the movie riding it toward the Hydra base), but the box art seems to be intentionally referencing the scene where she rode it off the jet. That’s kind of why they included the motorcycle and the jet together, right?
I also see that what probably happened is that Hasbro had more than a few extra Captain America action figures lying around from their Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier toy lines, and thought they could load off a few in a Quinjet Playset that people would buy for the jet and motorcycle rather than the figure itself.
They would have gotten away with it too if they’d done a better job merchandising Black Widow. She was the short pack for The Avengers (meaning there was only one of her per case while there were two or more of other characters) and I’m having trouble finding her. She’s got the 1/6th scale, which looks awesome, a Diamond Select 6” figure, and a 3 and 3/4 inch two pack with, you guessed it, Captain America. Google one of the other major Avengers, and see how many hits you get. There are more Iron Man variants than there are stars in the sky.
I don’t understand how Hasbro and Marvel aren’t aware of the political environment. In the last ten years this type of merchandising, the kind where only male characters are represented, has become unacceptable. Just about every blogger with any interest in comics has written about how Marvel isn’t representing women well enough in their movies, and how it’s awful that Black Widow isn’t getting a movie. There are a ton of Marvel women, too many to list here, yet no female led solo Marvel movie until 2019. Are you kidding? And this email from Marvel Entertainment’s CEO to a Sony higher up.
And this isn’t just people complaining. I Am Elemental is amazing, and judging by their Kickstarter results and how they’ve sold out of their collector’s tin, I’m not the only who thinks so. I don’t know if Hasbro is operating on the same old data as Marvel. In the email I linked too above, Marvel’s CEO implies that Supergirl flopping in 1984 means that female superheroes can’t be successful today, so maybe Hasbro has some data from the 80s that imply that Black Widow merchandise won’t sell today. All of those angry bloggers could be satisfied (read: turned to customers) if Marvel and Hasbro made the deliberate choice to acknowledge women exist as part of their audience and merchandise to them.
I’ve heard that part of their logic is that they’ve got the girl toy market with their Frozen line, which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. There are lots of women who love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I bet they’d be willing to buy Black Widow or Scarlett Witch action figures. They could also sell to the same people buying the Frozen toys too. A person could conceivably be interested in more than one thing, and a company could sell them two different toys from two different toy lines.
I don’t want to talk about representation anymore. I want to write about action figures—points of articulation, paints, packaging, etc.—but I’m not dropping this until Hasbro, Marvel, and the world in general starts listening. I won’t write about it every week, but it’s one of my main concerns. We, the action figure collecting community, want female action figures. If a 3 and ¾ inch Gamora is made I will buy it. If there is 3 and ¾ inch Sif made, I will buy it. I will buy these figures until it gets through to whatever head-up-his-ass executive sees enough daylight to greenlight more female figures. I hope you’ll do the same.
A Call to Action (Figures) is a weekly column published on Wednesdays, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. Next week I’ll be talking about how to best display action figures.