Natasha Romanoff, aka Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, doesn’t have the happiest origin story. It involves being brainwashed at the Red Room, a top secret Soviet training program that turned women into deadly assassins. Among the atrocities inflicted upon those forced into the program — including Natasha’s sister Yelena, played by Florence Pugh — was a hysterectomy. It’s grim stuff, and while the new solo Black Widow movie tries to be one of the funnier MCU entries, there is a darkly comic clapback to the two characters’ unhappy upbringing.
In a new interview with Polygon, director Cate Shortland — previously of dramas like Somersault and Lore — talked about a scene where David Harbour’s Alexi tries to make an old school sexist joke about his two “daughters.” “Why the aggression?” he asks them. “Is it your time of the month?”
But Yelena isn’t having it. “I don’t get my period, dips*it,” she responds. “I don’t have a uterus.”
“Or ovaries,” Natasha adds.
“That’s what happens when the Red Room gives you an involuntarily hysterectomy,” Yelena continues. “They kinda just go in and rip out all your reproductive organs. They just get right in there and chop them all away. So you can’t have babies.”
Thing is, the clapback to their Red Room origins wasn’t in the original script, credited to Eric Pearson. But the time-of-the-month joke was.
“So Eric, who is our writer, had written a joke about women being in bad moods because they have their period,” Shortland told Polygon. “And I remember Florence and Scarlett and I reading it and just being like, ‘Oh, my God, this is ridiculous.’”
Shortland thought about cutting it entirely, but Johansson and Pugh had another idea: They’d “answer” it by delving into their Red Room origins.
“I love it,” Shortland said. “Because it’s like, if you’re gonna make that joke, I’m gonna unleash Florence Pugh on you. She’s gonna Yelena you. It’s one of my favorite moments in the film.”
It was in keeping with Black Widow’s mordant tone. “What we tried to do was use humor to talk to the trauma,” Shortland added. “Most people in this film who’ve been victimized, are actually making jokes about that because they’re trying to overcome it.”
In other words, listen to your actors. They might come up with one of the most talked-about parts of your film.