Oh boy has the Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour been a doozy. First, Robert Downey, Jr. walked out of an interview after being questioned about his personal life and past. Then, Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner called Black Widown a “slut” and a “whore”. Now, the latest rough patch is RDJ has made a comment toward Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu that have been construed as racist.
While the last two incidents may be interpreted as poor media training from the actors, there is something that isn’t being taken into consideration: the questions being asked.
Before we continue, let’s get the giant disclaimer out of the way. In no way are we saying that what these men have said are ok and shouldn’t be taken seriously nor are we saying that the journalists involved are at fault. What we do want to bring forth is the discussion of what is the exact objective of these press junkets and how we’re phrasing what’s being asked.
Let’s start off with the first RDJ incident.
The interview starts off pretty generic with safe questions about Downey’s Iron Man and Age of Ultron. About halfway through is where a line is crossed. Krishnan Guru-Murphy takes the tone of the interview into a serious one that clearly has Downey extremely uncomfortable. Guru-Murphy starts questioning him about his past including his incarceration, drug addictions, and his relationship with his father. The cherry on top is the bringing up Downey’s previous statements made about his political views. RDJ’s response, “Are we promoting a movie?”
In this particular instance, yes. They were promoting a movie. This wasn’t a 2-hour special that was intended on dissecting Downey’s past and personal life. The actor even said “It’s getting a little Diane Sawyer in here.” upon his exit. There is a time and place for these questions and this obviously wasn’t one of them. Downey has been very open about his past but when the point of this interview is to promote a movie…maybe stick to the script.
Alright. Now the Renner-Evans thing the internet keeps talking about. When asked about Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff’s romantic relationship, both actors responded with “She’s a slut.” and “She’s a complete whore.”
Both actors have since apologized for their remarks.
“Yesterday we were asked about the rumors that Black Widow wanted to be in a relationship with both Hawkeye and Captain America. We answered in a very juvenile and offensive way that rightfully angered some fans. I regret it and sincerely apologize.” – Chris Evans
“I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour.” – Jeremy Renner
Again, we are not excusing these men for what they’ve said. What they have said is extremely problematic and speaks to how we view females in our society (see Nerdist’s article here). However, let’s look further into the questions being asked and why that also contributes to the problem.
The question brought forth was: “I know a lot of fans were pretty invested in the idea of Natasha ending up with either or both of you, now she’s with Bruce…what do you guys think about that?”
The way the question was structured and its intent was clear: click bait. No one really cares what Evans or Renner has to say about Black Widow’s love life, especially when it’s not even a main plot line in the films. Even the way the video was marketed was solely about that 5 second sound bite. I’ll even admit, I haven’t watched passed the first 30 seconds of the interview…I wouldn’t be able to tell you what is discussed in the remaining 3 minutes. The question could’ve easily been reworded to something like: “Do you think Natasha and Bruce have more of a connection than she did with Steve or Clint?” or “Why do you think the fans were so adamant about the relationship between Natasha/Clint or Natasha/Steve?”. Or y’know, not ask about her the romance at all and about Black Widow’s contribution to The Avengers.
Next up, RDJ (again) responds to a comment made by director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu about how superhero movies are “cultural genocide”.
Downey’s answers the interviewer’s question with what many have interpreted as a racist remark stating, “Look, I respect the hell out of him, and I think for a man whose native tongue is Spanish to be able to put together a phrase like ‘cultural genocide’ just speaks to how bright he is.”
Again, while Downey could’ve have responded in more diplomatic fashion, the interviewer was clearly fishing for a rise out of the actor who has made his comeback through what Iñárritu claims as “cultural genocide”. Instead of bringing up negative comments towards someone’s work, they could celebrate it. Especially when you’re talking directly to the person at the epicenter of it.
A breath of fresh air in the press tour comes from Cosmopolitan UK, who turned the tables on Mark Ruffalo and asked him the ridiculous questions usually saved for Scarlett Johansson.
See how weird and arguably useless these questions are, especially in the context of press junket to promote a film?
So what was the point of all of this? It wasn’t to lighten these statements from these actors or stop the discussion of how they made us feel or what it says about society and our views on women and race, etc. But rather, it’s to also bring up a different issue to the foreground. We attempted this during awards season with Smart Girls‘ #AskHerMore campaign where instead of asking women what they were wearing, we ask them something with a little bit more substance. Let’s try and move this into all aspects of press and media instead of solely focusing on those question to get us that possibly offensive, viral sound bite.