Black Widow does not flinch in the face of the most macabre aspects of Natasha Romanoff’s past. Enlisted in training in the Red Room, forced to commit acts of violence in the name of Russia, then her own episode of revenge alongside Clint Barton during the infamous Budapest mission … which is why the director Cate Shortland wanted to shoot Black Widow in one of the funniest chapters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“What we’ve tried to do is use humor to talk about the trauma,” she told GamesServer. “Most of the people in this movie who’ve been victimized are actually joking about it because they’re trying to get over it.”
There is no better example of Shortland’s approach than a moment in Black Widow in which Florence Pugh, as Yelena, reminds her surrogate father Alexi (David Harbor) of a particular horror of the Red Room. Here is how it goes:
Alexis: Why the aggression, eh? Is it your time of the month?
Elena: I don’t understand my rules. I don’t have a uterus.
Natasha: Or the ovaries.
Elena: This is what happens when the red room gives you an involuntary hysterectomy. They sort of go in and rip out all of your reproductive organs. They just go in there and chop them all up. So you can’t have babies.
Alexis: OK, OK, you don’t have to be so clinical and mean!
Elena: I was just going to talk about the fallopian tubes …
The scene picks up a thread from Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Natahsa explains to Bruce Banner in the gravest terms what happens to young women captured by Dreykov (Ray Winstone).
In the red room, where I was trained, where I grew up, there is a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you. It’s effective. One less thing to worry about. The only thing that could be more important than a mission. It makes everything easier. Even kill … Do you still think you’re the only monster on the team?
According to Shortland, Pugh’s clapback wasn’t actually in the script for Black Widow. In development for years, the story of the final film is attributed to Jac Schaeffer (WandaVision) and Ned Benson (Eleanor Rigby’s disappearance) with a screenplay by Eric Pearson. After joining Marvel’s screenwriting program in 2010, Pearson continued to write One-Shots early in Phase 1 and became a go-to source of rewrites for the studio, with co-writing credit on Thor: Ragnarok.
“So Eric, who is our writer, wrote a joke about women who were in a bad mood because they got their period,” recalls Shortland. “And I remember Florence, Scarlet and I read it and we were like, ‘Oh, my God, this is ridiculous. “”
The director says she almost cut the joke completely, but after chatting with her cast, she finally decided to “answer.” She didn’t say whether that meant improvising the same day or going back to traditional rewrites, but the result was the final digression into involuntary hysterectomies.
“I love it,” Shortland says. “Because it’s like, if you want to make this joke, I’m going to unleash Florence Pugh on you. She’s going to Yelena. It’s one of my favorite moments in the movie.
To learn more about Shortland, read our full interview. Black Widow is now available in theaters and on Disney Plus Premier Access.