How charges of Hollywood sexism extend to the toy shelf

In Disney's "Iron Man 3," villain Aldrich Killian has superhuman strength and can breathe fire. He also happens to be a man. But that wasn't the case in the original script.

In an interview posted on the digital news site "Uproxx" Monday, director and co-writer Shane Black said he originally wrote Killian as a woman. But he says he received a "no-holds-barred" memo, saying the decision was made that the "toy won't sell as well if it's a female... So, we had to change the entire script because of toy making."

Black said he was never told who made the decision, but indicated that it came from "Marvel Corporate."

This admission comes at an awkward time for studio executives, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. According to the ACLU, the federal government has been expanding its investigation into gender discrimination in Hollywood.

While this character gender-shift allegedly happened a few years ago, it does once again put a harsh spotlight on how the movie industry feels about female characters and their selling potential.

"It's not surprising to me that Marvel would have some reluctance to have a female villain if they felt it would impact toy sales," said Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

In terms of maximizing studio profits, superhero toys often come to the rescue, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. Last year's U.S. toy sales were up nearly seven percent to almost $19.5 billion. And it's estimated as much as 45 percent of that came from movie-licensed products.

"Disney may be looking at this saying, 'Okay, we're going to get a certain return on a male villain, whereas we might get a certain return on a female villain,'" Belloni said. "That's when a decision like this could be made."

This is not the first time that female characters in big movie franchises have faced tough times in the toy store. Rey was a force to be reckoned with in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." But fans complained she was not included in some toy sets.

And in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," Scarlett Johansson's "Black Widow" might have been the character who dropped out of an aircraft on a motorcycle, but she was dropped in the accompanying toy set, replaced by Captain America. Even co-star Mark Ruffalo tweeted at Marvel saying, "...we need more #BlackWidow merchandise for my daughters and nieces. Pretty please."

.@Marvel we need more #BlackWidow merchandise for my daughters and nieces. Pretty please.

-- Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) April 29, 2015

The backlash against both those oversights might mean times are changing.

"I definitely think that if this decision was on the table today, Marvel would not have chosen to eliminate a female villain from a film, especially considering how much consumers have been very vocal about wanting to see more girl action figures," said Marissa Dibartolo, senior editor of The Toy Insider.

"CBS This Morning" reached out to Marvel and Disney for comment, but we haven't heard back. It's worth noting that Marvel and DC Comics have plans for female-fronted movies.