Is Black Widow’s Russian Accent Legit?

The MCU has been in a strange and interesting place since the arrival of Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Without Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America, Marvel has turned to featuring some of their less-developed characters — and with great results. The latest hero to get their time to shine was Natasha Romanoff, aka Russian super-spy Black Widow. While there’s a lot to talk about in Black Widow, there’s been one thing on just about everyone’s minds since it premiered: How authentic is that Russian accent she and other characters are using?

Vocal coach Adrienne Nelson judges the Russian accent work in ‘Black Widow’

'Black Widow' star Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff standing in front of smoke
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in ‘Black Widow’ | Marvel Studios

As one would expect from a character with Cold War espionage origins, Natasha and much of the cast of Black Widow speak Russian. Even while the characters speak English, many still sport a Russian accent, a fact that has left fans wondering exactly how accurate they sound to Russian speakers. Vocal coach Adrienne Nelson sat down with Slate recently to answer that question.

In the interview, Nelson talks about her past work as an actress and vocal coach, as well as a formative experience attending a Russian immersion camp in Russia during the late 80s. If anyone could evaluate this movie, it would be her. Luckily for Disney, she was generally quite happy with how they did.

While Johansson’s character did little accent work, what she did was said to be fairly good. More than voice, though, Nelson praised how Natasha’s lack of an accent represented her backstory and character, pointing out how other characters even comment how “western” she’d become after years of working in America. Nelson also had good things to say about David Harbour‘s Red Guardian, whom she noted made a few mistakes in his accent but ultimately “honored so much of that Russian essence” with his performance.

The standout, though, seemed to be Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Black Widow’s younger sister. Nelson praised her considerably during the interview, complimenting her being able to keep the accent when speaking at different tempos. “I thought Florence Pugh was fantastic,” she said.

Black Widow has a complicated history

Black Widow is the codename for Natasha Romanoff, a super-spy SHIELD agent and Avenger who formerly worked for Russia during the Cold War. Trained since childhood in a facility known as the Red Room, Natasha held her own against aliens, robots, and super-humans with little more than a handful of gadgets and a pistol by her side. For obvious reasons, moviegoers were enthralled by this character’s abilities, mystique, and Scarlett Johansson’s subtle but powerful performance.

Scarlett Johansson has played Black Widow for likely the last time

For close to a full 10 years, Johansson has made appearances as Black Widow in various Marvel properties. Since she debuted in Iron Man 2 and arguably stole the show, fans have begged Marvel to give her her own solo feature to expand on her character. Yet, for almost the entirety of that same decade, they refused. Even Johansson herself, among various other cast mates like Clark Gregg in a 2016 Digital Spy interview, publicly campaigned for a movie following Natasha’s adventures when she wasn’t part of the Avengers roster.

Finally, a Black Widow solo film was greenlit with a release date of 2020, which already tells you that things didn’t go as planned. In addition to being pushed back a year, though, fans’ feelings had shifted quite a bit since the last decade. The character died during Endgame, effectively putting a cap on her and her story. While it was still nice to see Natasha in action, many were dissatisfied that the film amounted to little more than a side mission in between bigger movies from the past — with all her characterization being retroactive and unlikely to amount to much given the previous movie. Even though death doesn’t necessarily have to stay final (this is a comic book movie), Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney almost certainly assures it will be, leaving things on a somewhat bitter note.

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