By Sayoni Ghosh, MA, English
On this International Women’s Day, I celebrate one of my favourite actresses, Scarlett Johansson.
She first made a huge impact on me when I saw her film, Lost in Translation (2003), directed by Sofia Coppola. Coppola’s sensitive writing and Johansson’s innocent portrayal of a recent college graduate accurately depicted what it feels like to have a quarter-life existential crisis. It touched me with its emotional connection and subtle romance.
The second time Johansson made a lasting impact on me was in the film Her (2013), where she plays voices a highly advanced Operating System called Samantha and comes into a soulful relationship with Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix).
Her performance was phenomenal in this film; her soothing voice conveys so much emotion, be it intrigue, curiosity, love, worry, or pain, that is a trait of a true actor. I would highly recommend listening to ‘The Moon Song’ (film version) to know how calming her voice is.
She has been one of the few actresses who has wrestled with an industry which has always heavily sexualised the characters she played. Known most famously for her role in The Avengers (2012) as Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), she was the only leading female character in MCU’s early films. As a character created and defined by men, she was objectified from her first appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010).
Scarlett Johansson herself quotes when she talks about Black Widow, ‘She is really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or a thing, like a piece of ass, really.’ The franchise, for many initial years, made her into the ‘sexy cool girl’ archetype.
This led to many press interviews where she was asked misogynistic questions like ‘Were you able to wear undergarments under your suit?’ She called out inappropriate questions with wit and humour and educated the interviewer.
Even though Natasha’s character progressed from the archetype, her story ended with her happily sacrificing her life for a male character because he had a family, whereas she could not have kids, stripping her of her value.
Although her character seems like a male-defined version of female superheroism, when Natasha finally gets her stand-alone film, Black Widow (2021) with Florence Pugh, its theme of female empowerment stays with the audience, thanks to Johansson’s performance.
Regarded many times as one of the highest-paid actresses in the industry, she still faced an unequal wage gap compared to her co-stars in the MCU.
In her lawsuit against Disney, she claimed that Disney breached her contract by releasing the film Black Widow on Disney+ at the same time as its theatrical run, thereby depriving her of up to 50 million dollars from box office milestones.
The studio responded by calling the lawsuit unmerited and called Johansson having ‘callous disregard for the pandemic’. They also stated that the film on the OTT platform ‘enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the 20 million dollars she received.’
Just revealing this figure to the public shows how studios like Disney can ‘weaponise an actress’s success as an artist and businesswoman’ (Bryan Lourd).
It is hard to imagine them doing this to a male star, even though some of them have earned much more than Johansson in their Marvel movie careers. Her plight is not unique and shows that female actors still have a long way to go to achieve equal pay.
Scarlett’s versatility as an actress really shines in films like Jojo Rabbit (2019) and Marriage Story (2019). In Marriage Story, especially, her raw portrayal of an estranged wife during an ugly divorce made me feel this wave of emotions I had never experienced. She, along with Adam Driver, brought realism and chaos and made each scene feel authentic.
It is no surprise that she was nominated for both films as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards in 2020. Scarlett’s performance as Rosie in Jojo Rabbit felt like a roller coaster from being heartfelt to heart-breaking.
There has rarely been any film of hers which has disappointed when it comes to performance, voice-acting or singing.
The number of critical accolades she has received proves that her distinguished film career from childhood to the present makes her one of the best actresses of her generation.
Featured Image: Yoshio Sato/Focus Pictures on IMDBB
Which one of Scarlett Johansson's performances is your favourite?