Marvel Studios’ Concerns Surrounding ‘Black Widow’ Illustrate Industry Sexism

Though Cate Shortland is the director behind the first Phase 4 MCU installment, Black Widow, she may not have been Marvel Studios’ first choice. And, the studio’s prior plans illustrate Hollywood sexism when it comes to female directors and action-driven narratives. Let’s break down what happened with Black Widow before production went into motion. 

Black Widow MCU
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 20: (L-R) President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige, Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, Director Cate Shortland and Rachel Weisz of Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Widow’ at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

‘Black Widow’ and almost-director Lucrecia Martel

According to IndieWire, Marvel Studios initially pitched the directorial gig to Lucrecia Martel. Martel is an Argentine film director, screenwriter, and producer whose films have been well-received at Cannes Film Festival, as well as other international film festivals, including Venice, Toronto, and Berlin. She is well known for her work on Zama, The Headless Woman, The Holy Girl, La Ciénaga, and more. 

IndieWire notes that Martel was on the studio’s shortlist for Black Widow, despite the fact that her portfolio doesn’t exactly align with the MCU’s cinematically scintillating shtick. She met with the studio, but her interest in helming the film quickly diminished following her conversation with those involved in the decision. 

Martel explained that they yearned for a director “concerned with the development of Scarlett Johansson’s character,” which is why the studio was looking at female directors. While all this sounded fine and dandy, the opportunity soon went south. Martel explained:

They also told me, “Don’t worry about the action scenes, we will take care of that.” 

IndieWire

Martel noted that while she would love to meet Scarlett Johansson, she would also have liked to control, or at least have some input, in the action scenes. And, considering she was approached to direct, such a desire should not have been unexpected. 

Things fell through with Martel, and Cate Shortland — known for Berlin Syndrome and Somersault — is now set to direct; however, Marvel Studio’s conversation with Martel reveals an overarching and annoyingly persistent problem in Tinseltown: the presumption that woman cannot successfully sculpt an action scene, as if it takes a male to execute such moments. 

‘Black Widow’ and ongoing sexism in the film industry  

Unfortunately, while studios are interested in female directors, it often seems that those in charge want women to control what they deem to be a “female sector” or a “female strength,” which is the core of the very problem: the presumption that certain qualities are inherently male or female. Martel explained:

Companies are interested in female filmmakers but they still think action scenes are for male directors.

IndieWire

While Cate Shortland will undoubtedly create a stellar movie and is reportedly set to direct the movie alone, Martel’s experience in the industry — so separate from Marvel’s past work — would have made for quite an interesting spin on Black Widow.

Maybe, at some point down the line, Martel and Marvel will work out a deal, in which Marvel truly gives the director the reigns. For, how much of a Marvel movie is left when you delete the action sequences? Half the job becomes off the table. Marvel Studios may be trying to diversity on the screen, but are they trying just as hard behind it?