Black widow do not fail when confronted with the crueler aspects of Natasha Romanoff’s past. Conscription for training in the Red Room, forced to commit violence in Russia’s name and then her own revenge episode with Clint Barton on the infamous Budapest mission … it’s all pretty bleak. Therefore, director Cate Shortland would return Black widow into one of the funniest chapters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“What we were trying to do was use humor to talk to the trauma,” she tells Polygon. “Most of the people in this movie who have been victims are actually making jokes about it because they are trying to overcome it.”
There is no better example of Shortland’s approach than a moment in Black widow where Florence Pugh as Yelena reminds her surrogate father Alexi (David Harbor) of a particular horror in the red space. Here’s how it plays out:
Alexi: Why the aggression, huh? Is it your time of the month?
Yelena: I’m not getting my period. I do not have a uterus.
Natasha: Or ovaries.
Yelena: This is what happens when the red space gives you an involuntary hysterectomy. They just go in and tear out all your reproductive organs. They come right in and chop them all away. So you can not have babies.
Alexi: OK, OK, you do not have to be so clinical and ugly!
Yelena: I was just talking about the fallopian tubes …
The scene picks up a thread from Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Natahsa tells Bruce Banner in the most serious terms what happens to the young women captured by Dreykov (Ray Winstone).
In the red room where I was educated, where I was raised, they have a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you. It is effective. One less thing to worry about. The one thing that might mean something more than a mission. It makes everything easier. Even killed … Do you still think you’re the only monster on the team?
According to Shortland, Pugh’s clapback was actually not in the script for Black widow. In development for years, the final film’s story is credited to Jac Schaeffer (WandaVision) and Ned Benson (Eleanor Rigby’s disappearance) with a manuscript by Eric Pearson. After entering the Marvel manuscript program in 2010, Pearson continued to write One-Shots in the early phase of 1 days and has become a go-to source for rewriting for the studio with a co-crediting credit of Thor: Ragnarok.
“So Eric, who is our author, had written a joke that women were in a bad mood because they have their period,” Shortland recalls. “And I remember Florence and Scarlet, and I read it and just was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is ridiculous.'”
The director says she almost cut the joke out completely, but after arguing with her actors, she ultimately decided to “answer it.” She did not specify whether it meant improvisation on the day of or going back to traditional paraphrases, but the result was the final deviation from involuntary hysterectomy.
“I love it,” Shortland says. “Because it’s like, if you want to make that joke, I want to let Florence Pugh out on you. She wants Yelena you. It’s one of my favorite moments in the movie. ”
For more from Shortland, read our full interview. Black widow is out now in theaters and at Disney Plus Premier Access.