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Avengers stars become focus of internet outrage after Black Widow comments

The Avengers have successfully battled Asgardian gods, alien armadas, and diabolical organizations bent on world domination, but this week several members of the superhero team — or rather, the actors who play them — had a run-in with one of their most formidable foes so far: the online outrage machine.

During an interview with Digital Spy, cast members Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans (who play Hawkeye and Captain America, respectively) were asked how they felt about Black Widow, the super-spy played by Scarlett Johansson, having a romantic relationship with Bruce Banner, the scientist played by Mark Ruffalo who turns into the green behemoth Hulk. The pair’s relationship has been a popular topic of discussion leading up to the film’s premiere, as many fans expected — and in many cases, campaigned for — Black Widow to be involved with Hawkeye or Captain America (and in some cases, both of them at the same time).

“She’s a slut,” deadpanned Renner, causing Evans to nearly fall off his chair laughing.

“She’s a complete whore,” laughed Evans.

Their responses — although clearly made in jest — prompted some complaints of sexism exhibited by the actors. As is quickly becoming commonplace, this hot-button issue resulted in a flood of online outrage directed at the actors, leading them to subsequently issue apologies for their comments.

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

“I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone,” said Renner in his own statement, which offered a subtle reminder of the context of his joke (a fictional character’s opinion on another fictional character’s actions). “It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour.”

It’s worth noting that neither Renner nor Evans have a history of sexist and/or misogynistic attitudes (Evans in particular is widely regarded as a good person, with his recent Super Bowl charity bet with Chris Pratt only the latest example of his “nice guy” reputation), leading many people to come to the actors’ defense.

Nevertheless, the controversy offers a reminder that there are few forces as unstoppable as online outrage.