‘Black Widow’ Director Shortlist Includes Cate Shortland and Amma Asante

Marvel is honing in on a woman to helm the long-awaited solo adventure of Scarlett Johansson's Avenger. 
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Marvel is honing in which woman will helm the long-awaited solo adventure of Scarlett Johansson’s Avenger.

It’s good to know Marvel Studios hasn’t forgotten about the Black Widow standalone movie. Fans have been talking about the project since at least 2010, but for years it seemed like little headway was being made to giving Scarlett Johansson and her Avenger their own vehicle. Finally, this year, after keeping the possible solo venture mostly in a place of speculation and wishful-thinking, Marvel moved forward by hiring a screenwriter, Jac Schaeffer, at the start of this year. A few months later, the studio appeared to be seriously looking at directors.

What’s even more promising is that the carefully sought out candidate to helm this long-awaited movie will, like Schaeffer, definitely be a woman. Given that Marvel is one of the biggest studios of our time (for the superhero genre or otherwise), it couldn’t be more encouraging to hear that they are adamant about choosing a female director. Besides the importance of women being represented in this job, there is almost a necessity for having plots that center around strong women put into the hands of women themselves.

The latest exciting update in the search is the naming of Cate Shortland as a primary contender. Shortland is an Australian filmmaker whose most recent work includes last year’s Berlin Syndrome. She would certainly be a promising selection for the spy-focused spinoff, having earned an Australian Directors Guild award for “Best Direction in a Feature Film” for her 2012 feature, Lore. The period piece was an impressive undertaking, centering around the children of high-profile Nazis desperately searching for a safe haven during World War II. The complicated political nature of Lore, as well as its eponymous female lead, help paint the picture of what Shortland could bring to the table for Black Widow.

Amma Asante’s name has also come up as a strong possibility. The British writer/director’s credits include the acclaimed feature Belle, which tells the story of the biracial daughter of a British Royal Navy Admiral in 18th century England, as well as her award-winning first film A Way of Life. Off the screen and the page, however, Asante is making waves by mentoring other women in film. The actress-turned-filmmaker has taken to bringing these future artists to her sets so that they can get a firsthand look at what it truly takes to bring a movie to life. Her ultimate end goal is equality in the industry and strives to give the often-overlooked women hoping to make it behind the camera a fighting chance.

While Asante boasts an impressive career, in recent news there has been a certain amount of backlash for her upcoming film Where Hands Touch. It’s another period piece drama, this time centering on the romantic relationship of a mixed-race girl living in Nazi Germany (born to a black father and white German mother) who falls in love with a member of Hitler’s Youth. The movie has certainly generated a good deal of controversy online, with it being the opinion of some that the film appears to be painting aspects of Nazi Germany in a positive light while lessening the hardships faced by Jewish and non-white people during the Holocaust. Asante responded to this criticism of the film, releasing a statement to make more clear her intentions when making WHT.

The third director named high up on Marvel’s list is New York-born Maggie Betts. She was the winner of the 2017 Sundance Breakthrough Director award for her latest film, Novitiate. Set in the early 60s, it explores issues of religion and sexuality, with a young woman embarking on a journey to nunhood at its center. Her presence on the Black Widow shortlist is definitely earned, and it would be exciting to see where Betts’ talent for interesting, meaningful stories could take the film.

What it really comes down to with these prospective directors is that a much-needed push in the right direction for the future of superhero films is being made. Patty Jenkins was the first woman to direct a big-budget comic book movie with Wonder Woman, an achievement which took until 2017 to reach. Besides the success and brilliance of this film, Jenkins had effectively made the glass ceiling at both DC and Marvel very obvious.

The female-directed Wonder Woman very much helped make the case for women in these roles (not that some of us needed much convincing). Again, it showed that the best way to tell these stories, those of strong women, is through the directing and writing of other women. Obviously women can direct and write for male superhero films, and hopefully will in the near future, yet there is something wonderfully refreshing about a female superhero being presented outside the male gaze. If you don’t know what I mean by this, look at the difference between the way Diana is shot in Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Not only were her outfits skimpier in JL, but the feeling of the character as a powerful figure of myth and legend was reduced to shots of her backside in tight pants.

Obviously, there is a need for female filmmakers to be able to tell their own stories, and not to have a man tell it for them, or paint it in the way he may view women. In terms of a superhero with such a complex backstory like Black Widow, a female director may be able to give us the powerful portrayal of the character, also known as Natasha Romanoff, we’ve always wanted.

Basically, we deserve a Black Widow origin story about her start in the notorious KGB Red Room without the moment being derailed by the problematic discussion of her sterilization. Or the random foisting of Natasha upon Bruce Banner as an unconvincing love interest, both cringe-inducing moments coming from Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

All past grudges aside, signs point to the fact that Marvel is taking steps to ensure Black Widow is the movie fans deserve and one that truly does the character justice.

Kendall Cromartie: Kendall is a recent graduate and San Diego native who is passionate about the environment, writing, and above all else Keanu Reeves.