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.

Neither of these was released in support of the new movie.

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?

There are no other scenes in the movie with the jet and the bike.

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.

My money is where my mouth is.

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.

Did I get it right? Do Marvel and Hasbro need to do a better job of representing women in their movies and merchandising? Let me know in the comments!

By Bryan Stewart

Bryan first discovered an appreciation for action figures at an early age, setting up elaborate GI Joe ant hill attacks, complete with firework pyrotechnics. Due to the high injury rate for the Joes, replacements were a constant necessity.


  1. Sorry to say, but the companies are very aware of demographics. No matter what anyone thinks, the simple fact is that when voting with their wallets people have not chosen female characters. Look at Electra, didn’t do too well did it. So they look at the box office numbers and go with what works. If someone could come up with figures showing that profits would probably be ‘as good as’ using a female figure it would get green lighted ASAP. Money talks in the capitalist system. Fact of life. Is Black Widow getting a movie? There’s a script in development (there always is), but maybe the actress does not want to do it, Or her schedule is tied up, Or they are waiting until she is a better known character worldwide (most big movie decisions are based upon worldwide distribution these days). While it is very PC to cry out about the dearth of female role models, The sales so far do not justify it, and like it or not all of this stuff is done to make money. If you can only make X movies a year, you go with what you think will make you the most money. If you want to help promote female characters,, go out and buy all the female character items, figures and books and make them into top sellers. No, I am not a sexist, I’m a realist, and until people put their money hwere their mouth is things will not change.

    1. Thanks for reading.

      I advocate for voting with your wallet regularly on here. One of my early columns was actually all about that, https://www.actionfigurefury.com/call-action-figures-voting-wallet/ .

      Throwing out Elektra as a reason for female superhero movies not to be made is a straw man argument. It flopped, but it should have never been made in the first place because it was a spin off of Daredevil, which also flopped and is reviled as one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Does that mean we shouldn’t make anymore male led superhero movies?

      The other examples from the email exchange I linked to in the column (http://time.com/3847432/marvel-ceo-leaked-email/?iid=biz-article-recirc in case you didn’t follow it) cites Supergirl from 1984, which is the most egregious example of using outdated information and Catwoman, which I’ll admit is bad, but the sample size of female led superhero movies is much too small to say people aren’t choosing female characters. People didn’t shell out a whole lot for the 2003 Hulk, the 2006 Superman Returns, the 2007 Ghost Rider, and the list goes on long enough that I could fill an entire column with flopped male led superhero movies. Hulk and Superman were rebooted, and Ghost Rider got a sequel. Wonder Woman had a TV show that was in the same ball park in terms of success with the Hulk TV show, and she’s had no movies, ever. People haven’t had the opportunity to vote for female superhero movies with their wallet.

      It is very PC, thank you. I take that as a compliment.

      And if you notice, in the seventh paragraph I talk about how successful I Am Elemental has been with their line of all female superhero action figures. They aren’t linked to a comic, movie, TV show, or any particular mythos and they made enough to Kickstart their line and sold out of their Collector’s Tin complete set. (You can check them out here: http://www.iamelemental.com/) In other words, they have demonstrated a high-level of financial success.

      I do promote female action figures, both by talking about them on here and by buying them. The last picture, the one with twenty-three Marvel female action figures is from my collection. It’s also captioned “My money is where my mouth is.”

      It’s funny that you feel the need to point out that you’re not a sexist. I’ve never attacked anyone’s character in the comment section, and I’d go as far to say that nobody has ever really been insulted in an Action Figure Fury comment section and I’m not going to start that today. I’m curious though, if you’re not a sexist, why do you feel the need to end your argument by saying that?

  2. Progress in this area seems to have regressed as of late. There was a period in the 90’s where Toy Biz had quite a bit of female figures in their X-Men line. Nearly every female X-Men character was made right down to short lived ones like Penance and Marrow. There were several versions of popular characters such as Storm and Rogue and I don’t recall ANY of them being shelf warmers. And this was 15+ years ago! Maybe the problem is Hasbro?

    1. I think it’s a combination of Hasbro not being great about gender and Marvel pushing Avengers over X-Men so they don’t need to split the profit with another movie studio. I haven’t gone through and counted, but I feel like there’re way more female X-Men than female Avengers to work with.

      Whether my extrapolation is wrong or right, this is a really good point.

      1. There is definitely more female X-Men characters than Avengers characters. It’s a shame the situation with FOX has Marvel diminishing its X-Men licensing.

        1. Yarp. X-Men is incredible! Those are the comics I grew up with more than the Avengers, and I kind of wish that the cinematic universe was more about them, but se la vie.

  3. As a male child growing up, I never wanted to buy female action figures and continue to hold this stance to this very day for the following non-sexist and unbiased reasons:

    1. Girls are gross
    2. Girls have coodies
    3. Girl action figure boobs are harder than a bag of sand
    4. Girls have smaller brains
    5. Girls have less muscle
    6. Girl action figures have rabies

    In all seriousness though, when I was a kid and still retained my youthful naïveté before experiencing the chauvinistic brain wash of our society, girl action figures just weren’t as cool as the male action figures. And the same will be true for >90% of male children (the main consumer of action figures), because girls heros are simply not as cool to a male child. They didn’t sell, the companies stopped making them, nuff said. Get over it you feminist head-in-your ass freedom fighters. Freedom isn’t free fools

    1. Those are learned attitudes. Give me an example of when female action figures actually had a chance. What line had majority of female characters and failed to sell? There have been none, to my knowledge, yet an attitude persists that they can’t sell, which makes no sense. I’m not going to back down unless you can give me evidence.

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