Gina Mei
Updated April 23, 2015 12:48 pm

Everyone was stoked about Avengers: Age of Ultron, out May 1st, until things took an unexpected turn on the promotional circuit. On Wednesday, actors Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner gave an interview with Digital Spy to promote their new flick, and with one question, fans felt they crossed a line. When asked about rumors that Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) was interested in pursuing relationships with both Captain America and Hawkeye (Evans’ and Renner’s characters) before ultimately ending up with Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk), the actors called her a “slut” and “a complete whore.” Renner then added, “She has a prosthetic leg, anyway.”

Here’s the clip so you can watch and assess for yourself.

Many took to social media to express their rage and disapproval over the remarks — and rightfully so. Evans and Renner’s comments were both sexist and ableist, implying that a woman’s interest in more than one person somehow makes her worthy of denouncement, and that her disability renders her undesirable. It should go without saying that neither is true — and if you’ve seen Johansson’s portrayal of Black Widow, you know that she wouldn’t be having any of this. The remarks were offhand and (likely) meant without malice, but that doesn’t make them any less problematic — and we should talk about why that’s the case.

To be clear, we’re usually big fans of both Evans and Renner. They’re generally pretty likable celebs, and they’re both excellent in the Avengers movies. But that doesn’t mean they are without fault, and their remarks were absolutely not OK — particularly given how many young people look up to them (they’re superheroes, after all). Slut-shaming is deeply ingrained in our culture, and society still holds women to a different set of “standards” when it comes to sex and promiscuity. (To put it into perspective, Evans and Renner didn’t call Iron Man a “slut” or a “whore” for his love life before Pepper.) All people deserve to be treated with understanding and respect, and when our knee-jerk reaction is to belittle someone, it is essential that we ask ourselves why.

Ingrained prejudices are generally the ones we need to question and challenge the most, because those are often the most difficult for us to unlearn. We’re all guilty of having them, and the only way to overcome them is to face them head on. We shouldn’t be scared to be critical of our celebrity heroes, either. In March, writer Ijeoma Oluo penned a piece for Matter called “Admit It: Your Fave is Problematic.” The story was in response to the backlash Trevor Noah received for his offensive Twitter history after it was announced he would be taking over for Jon Stewart at The Daily Show.

“The fact that your fave is problematic isn’t a big deal ,” Oluo writes. “The big deal is if we ignore it.”

“Our reluctance to have an honest and open conversation about the flaws of celebrities we love stems from a simple fact: we see ourselves in them,” she continues. “If your favorite smart, talented, successful celebrity can be classist, sexist or racist then what does that say about you? Well, it says that you can be classist, sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic.”

Her point essentially is that we can’t be critical of our favorite celebrities without being a little critical of ourselves; but sometimes it’s necessary to go through that introspection. Evans and Renner have a serious opportunity to help change how millions of people view sexism and disability — and we hope they take advantage of it in the future. Today, Evans issued an apology in a statement from his publicist:

“Yesterday we were asked about the rumors that Black Widow wanted to be in a relationship with both Hawkeye and Captain America,” he said. “We answered in a very juvenile and offensive way that rightfully angered some fans. I regret it and sincerely apologize.”

As far as apologies go, his was pretty solid, and we’re glad that Evans actually owned up to what he did. Here’s hoping that both Evans and Renner sent an apology Johansson’s way, too — and that we learn from moments like this, and not just rage about them.

(Image via.)