black widow cate shortland

At first glance, Cate Shortland is not the obvious choice to direct a superhero movie — her three prior films are dark dramas about women in complex, distressing situations. And while Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is a complicated character with her fair share of tragedy, MCU movies have a history of skirting past darkness with levity and humor. So how did Shortland end up directing the long-awaited Black Widow solo movie?

Simple: Scarlett Johansson courted her.

In a recent Variety interview, Johansson said, “One of the wonderful things about working for Marvel and their track record is a lot of incredible people raise their hand to work on these films. But it was only Cate for me from the beginning.”

Johansson was determined to land Shortland from the onset, as a fan of her second film, Lore, a historical drama about a German teen struggling to keep her younger siblings alive in the waning days of Nazi Germany. The film won numerous international awards and received wide acclaim, with many, including Johansson, considering it Shortland’s “masterpiece.” Johansson added:

“It was very important to me that the person that directed this film had to have made a masterpiece and then some other good movies. And I really think ‘Lore’ is really so close to — I mean, it’s a perfect film.”

As the search for a Black Widow director kicked off, Johansson zeroed in on Shortland. She reached out in an effort to win her over but Shortland was considerably less sure of herself as a match for the MCU. In fact, the filmmaker told her manager, “there’s no way I can do this movie, and I’m not sure why they’re asking me.”

But Johansson persisted. The two continued their “tentative” conversations, meanwhile, Shortland looked further into the wide collection of Marvel films (having previously seen only Thor: Ragnorak and Black Panther). The further she delved, the broader the universe became. Given that the scale was part of her initial hesitation, you’d think this would only scare her off — instead, it played a big role in convincing her to take the job.

“I got hooked on the idea of trying to tell a really personal, intimate story in amongst so much beauty and spectacle. When I really decided that I wanted to do it, I decided 150% — like, I never wanted to do anything as much as this, in a way. It was strange.”

chloe zhao awards

The Future Is Female

Shortland’s decision was a welcome surprise. MCU titles like Thor: Ragnorak, Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy prove that the more a filmmaker gets to inject their sensibilities, the better the film. Thankfully, Marvel is finally beginning to diversify who gets that power.

Following the success of Wonder Woman, studios have come to the overdue realization that women like comic books and superhero movies too (imagine that!). Perhaps this was the final push needed for Marvel to pursue female-led projects — including Captain Marvel and this long-awaited Black Widow solo feature.

Next on the docket is Marvel’s Eternals, a particularly ambitious project and the first MCU film directed by a woman of color. Like Shortland, you wouldn’t look over Chloé Zhao’s filmography and pinpoint her as the next MCU director. Her three films have been meditative film festival darlings, including the most recent Best Picture winner, Nomadland. Zhao was actually in the initial running to direct Black Widow but was too busy finishing Nomadland and according to a Variety interview with Kevin Feige, she pulled herself out of the running.

Things worked out pretty perfectly though, given the stunning trailer for Eternals. The ensemble movie follows an immortal alien race reuniting to defend humanity and features a number of firsts for the studio, including their first gay superhero (Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos), first south Asian superhero (Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo), and first deaf superhero (Lauren Ridloff as Makkari). The trailer tells us that Zhao will be injecting her signature visual style, promising a visual and thematic beauty (not to mentions its gorgeous cast of characters).

Last year, it was announced that Booksmart director Olivia Wilde will be directing a top-secret Sony-Marvel project, unconnected to the existing MCU. Details have been kept closely under wraps, but the popular guess is a Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman stand-alone film. While no details have been confirmed, Wilde’s 2019 directorial debut was critically praised as one of the funniest and most poignant coming-of-age films of the year.

Nia DaCosta, who directed the (still) upcoming Candyman reboot and 2018 film Little Woods will be the first Black woman to helm an MCU film as director of the Captain Marvel sequel, The Marvels. Her film will introduce Iman Kellani as Kamala Khan and see the return of Monica Rambeau actress Teyonah Parris, who stole the show (and gained some new powers) in WandaVision.

All this to say, the future of Marvel is stretching to some new and interesting places — and Cate Shortland’s Black Widow might just be the beginning.

Black Widow arrives in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9, 2021.

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