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Iron Man 3 had a female villain — until corporate sexism got hold of her

Iron Man 3 could've had it all.
Iron Man 3 could've had it all.

If you've ever tried to get your hands on a Black Widow toy only to be disappointed by aisles and aisles full of Hulk and Hawkeye merch, Iron Man 3 director Shane Black has some disturbing insider insight for you.

In a new interview with Uproxx about his upcoming film The Nice Guys, Black revealed some frustrating details about the making of Iron Man 3, especially with regard to its female characters. For one, characters Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Brandt (Stephanie Szostak) started out with bigger roles that were later "reduced."

For another, Iron Man 3 initially featured a female villain — but Black and his co-screenwriter Drew Pearce were told to switch to a male villain instead, because "that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female." (The bad guy they eventually landed on, Aldrich Killian, was played by Guy Pearce.)

When asked to elaborate, Black didn't hold back:

There was an early draft of Iron Man 3 where we had an inkling of a problem. Which is that we had a female character who was the villain in the draft. We had finished the script and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and we’ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we’ve decided that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female. So, we had to change the entire script because of toy making.

Black was quick to clarify that he's not sure who was responsible for that memo, and that current Marvel president Kevin Feige is "the guy who gets it right," generally speaking.

Picking up on context clues, Uproxx interviewer Mike Ryan ventured a guess that the memo originated with Ike Perlmutter, Marvel's controversial CEO. Perlmutter's ascension in the company is largely thanks to his work in Marvel's toy division, which helped the company turn a profit in the '90s. But he and Feige reportedly have a contentious relationship, to the point where Feige now reports to Disney Studios' Alan Horn instead of Perlmutter.

Many people have cited Perlmutter's influence as the reason for Marvel's gendered approach to its toy lines, a suspicion that only grew stronger after the 2014 Sony hack revealed an email from Perlmutter that dismissed the idea of female-led superhero movies because he believed they were hopelessly unprofitable.

Fans have long suspected this kind of corporate meddling was behind the noticeable lack of female merchandise, but it's rare for someone so close to the situation to reveal such sensitive information explicitly "on the record," as Black does in this interview.

And while it's true that the tide might be changing at Marvel Studios, with Feige recently insisting that he's "creatively and emotionally" invested in making a standalone Black Widow movie, Black's interview shows that bias against female characters runs deep. This kind of transparency helps shed light on the issue, but reversing that kind of entrenched sexism will require some difficult, deliberate work by those in the positions to make actual change.

We've reached peak lens flare. Here's how it started