Scarlett Johansson feels caught “between two worlds” as a beautiful Millennial who’s made her way in Hollywood. While speaking on the podcast Armchair Expert, she told hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman that she was “hypersexualized” and “pigeonholed” as a young actress.
For Scarlett Johansson, Being Perceived as Older Meant Feeling Disrespected
“I kind of became objectified and pigeonholed in this way where I felt like I wasn’t getting offers for work for things that I wanted to do,” said Johansson. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I think people think I’m 40 years old.’ It somehow stopped being something that was desirable and something that I was fighting against.”
Dax had asked if it was a desirable thing to be seen as older, admitting that he used to want to be perceived as more mature than he was. But from Johansson’s perspective, being perceived as older led to a stigma. Worse, it scared her. What if she was set to be typecast for the rest of her career?
“The runway is not long on that,” the Lost in Translation star said. “So, it was scary at that time. In a weird way, I was like, is this it? I attributed a lot of that to the fact that people thought I was much, much older than I was.”
Pushing Back: Johansson Worked to Change Black Widow
But Johansson has fought back and changed this narrative. Speaking about her role as Black Widow, she once told HelloBeautiful’s Sade Spence that she had to actively push against the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s intended trajectory. The Avenger assassin first appeared in Iron Man 2, 11 years prior to the release of Black Widow.
“While [the movie] was really fun and had a lot of great moments… The character is like so sexualized [and] talked about like she’s like a piece of something and like a possession,” said Johansson. “I think Tony even says something like that.”
When Natasha Romanoff first meets Tony Stark, he’s ogling her incessantly in a way that’s been coined “the male gaze.” He is hypersexualizing her, even after she one-handedly takes down his boxing partner. “I want one,” he tells his assistant.
Johansson told Spence that her sense of self-worth has evolved over time. When once the ogling and sexualization may have been flattering, her views have shifted. The Black Widow of 2021 is portrayed much differently than the one from 2010.
Johansson On Shifting From a Patriarchy to Mutual Respect
“We’re getting like a much more positive message [now], but it’s really been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side, and not just be a part of that story but actually evolve,” said Johansson.
“Obviously, it’s 10 years… and so much has happened. I have a much different, more evolved understanding of myself as a woman. I’m in a different place in my life. I feel more forgiving of myself as a woman. Sometimes, probably not enough. All of that is what is needed to move away from the kind of hypersexualization of this character.”
How Younger Generations Are Changing the World
Although Johansson has seen some improvement in some of her own roles, she still sees the world as innately patriarchal. Circling back to the Armchair Expert podcast, she said that she feels the heat as a Millennial. Women of older generations were taught to use their looks and sex appeal to get ahead. But Gen-Z won’t have any of it.
“We had our mothers who were like, ‘Use whatever you can to get what the thing you need. Use your feminine wiles. Use your sexuality,'” said the Ghost in the Shell actress. “And then there’s our generation I think that’s done that and also [said], ‘This doesn’t feel right, there’s gotta be some other way.’ And there’s the younger generation of women who are like 15 years younger than me, who are like, ‘You don’t have to take any of that crap. No pandering.’ There’s this system that’s completely rejected. It’s an interesting place to be in the in between of.”
On younger women in Hollywood who have seemed to manage to take no sh*t, Johansson brought up Florence Pugh and the hosts mentioned Zendaya.
Typecasting, Pigeonholing Can Work Both Ways
Johansson also said that women can be pigeonholed in other ways, too. The hosts mentioned that another actress, Natalie Portman, had to work very hard to de-sexualize her roles at the start of her career. But Johansson, who had worked with Portman and spoken with her about typecasting before, said that Portman had her own complaints.
“I’ve talked to her about that before,” said Johansson. “We did a movie called The Other Boleyn Girl together and we spent a lot of time talking about all that stuff… We didn’t know each other really before that, and then we worked together really intimately. She was definitely somebody I really looked up to. She’s a few years older than me, her career was really sensational.
“We had kind of opposite worlds in a weird way. Because she was able to go extreme in that other direction. But she also was saying it kind of f***ed her up, because she wasn’t that person, she wasn’t a prude, buttoned-up ‘girl next door.’”