Mark Ruffalo Called Out Marvel for Its Problem With ‘Avengers’ Merchandise

The actor recently joined a chorus of fans who wondered why Black Widow was missing from the franchise’s line of toys and apparel.
Apr 29, 2015·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Peruse Disney’s recently launched line of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron merchandise, and you’ll find just about everything from padded Hulk costumes to Lego play sets to superhero-patterned soccer balls. But you won’t see many products based on Black Widow, the martial arts expert played by Scarlett Johansson in the new movie.

The character’s absence was noted by many fans on social media last week, and now Avengers: Age of Ultron star Mark Ruffalo has joined the chorus of those seeking greater female representation in the movie’s merchandising.

“We need more #BlackWidow merchandise for my daughters and nieces,” the Hulk actor tweeted to Marvel on Tuesday night. “Pretty please.” The statement was retweeted more than 11,000 times and elicited responses from people who said the appeal of Black Widow isn’t just limited to girls—or even kids, for that matter.

“Tied to the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel has over 60 Black Widow SKUS across diverse categories such as Hot Wheels, action figures, video games, T-shirts, costumes, and collectibles, with even more products available for back to school and Halloween,” Disney recently said in a statement to Vanity Fair.

But fans have noticed the underrepresentation of female characters in superhero merchandising for years. The hashtag #wheresgamora trended last summer in an attempt to call attention to heroine Gamora’s lack of visibility in Comic Con merchandise for Guardians of the Galaxy—a movie whose audience was 44 percent female during opening weekend, according to exit polls. The first Avengers movie in 2012 boasted a similar opening weekend demographic, with a 40 percent female audience helping the blockbuster set an all-time weekend box office record of $207.4 million.

When it comes to generating revenue, merchandising matters nearly as much as the movie itself, making the messages it carries all the more important. The Avengers went on to gross $1.5 billion at the box office in 2012, but the associated merchandise alone generated a cool $1 billion in sales, according to the NPD Group.

Merchandise isn’t the only thing sparking a conversation about gender and representation in relation to the Avengers franchise. Ruffalo and the Avengers: Age of Ultron cast have been forced to confront biases and stereotypes during the press tour leading up to the movie’s release this week. Stars Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner recently issued an apology after their interview comments about Black Widow’s character being a “slut” and a “whore” drew ire from fans online.

After Johansson noticed that she wasn’t being asked questions as substantive as those being put to her male colleagues during the press tour for the first Avengers movie in 2012, Cosmopolitan UK decided to turn the tables this time. In an interview uploaded last week, a journalist asks Ruffalo the kind of fashion-focused questions his female costars typically field.