The following article contains spoilers for the movie Black Widow.
Marvel Movies are back and better than ever. It’s been two agonizingly long years since Avengers: Endgame and fans have waited very patiently for the long awaited Black Widow solo film.
As many of us have witnessed in Avenger’s Age of Ultron, Natasha Romanoff’s backstory consists of ballet, assassin training and an involuntary surgery.
After six years of speculation regarding her past, we finally get some answers in Black Widow, but not in the way you might think.
Black Widow opens with an 11 year old Natasha Romanoff and 6 year old Yelena living a “normal childhood” in Ohio. Two young “sisters” with a mother and father. But the family escapes America that night and arrives in Cuba where their “parents” are revealed to be Russian spies. The girls are robbed of their 3 year American youth and are taken to Russia.
What arrives next on screen is a small, yet perfectly satisfying depiction of Natasha’s process to becoming a “Black Widow”. Let’s break down the opening credit scene.
Natasha and Yelena, along with other young helpless girls, are huddling close to eachother, crying and scared for their lives. We see something akin to kidnapping victims, but there’s more to it.
The door opens to Russian soldiers and the girls scream with terror. Cut to the title sequence and we are watching these girls process their induction into The Red Room as a haunting cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit sets the dark mood.
Soldiers pull Natasha and Yelana apart as Yelena screams and Natasha fights to give her young sister the pictures of them together in an American photobooth. Stills of Russian dolls and teddy bears abandoned on dirty streets resemble the abandonment of childhood.
These young girls are then lined up and inspected from head to toe (god only knows how), clutching the last bits of their childhood, before they are taken into vehicles and sent to The Red Room.
A news channel reveals that Natasha and her “family” were actually Russian spies (for Drekov’s Red Room) and posed as typical All-Americans living in Ohio for 3 years. Natasha’s story in America mirrors the hit show The Americans on FX as well as alludes to accounts of real life Russian spies posing as U.S. citizens in The Cold War.
The next thing that appears on screen is quite possibly the darkest take on transformation a Mavel movie has ever made. Natasha, along with other little girls are seen sitting at computer screens watching cartoons. But these aren’t normal cartoons, they show violence and communicate forms of manipulation. All the girls sip juice boxes in unison, their faces stoic—not a single one blinking. Drekov is brainwashing these young girls, their introduction and induction to being assassins.
These children are trained to be good, obedient little girls as mirrored by their gendered and juvenile hairstyles, specifically hair bows.
We watch them begin to grow up. But we see that Natasha seems to have resisted the brainwashing techniques of Drekov as she watches the girls around her in the target arena act like mind controlled robots.
Footage is released of young Natasha and young Yelena beginning a mission, posing as Americans. They are dressed in pajamas and they spent the day in a photo studio creating their Christmas, Easter and other American holiday memories as big sister and little sister.
Part of the process of induction not only includes brainwashing but also sadly includes an involuntary hysterectomy, a tactic employed to prevent pregnancy. An even more horrific ramification comes to light as many girls die on the operating table. Of consideration is that all of the doctors in charge of the surgery are men, a parallel to the male perpetuated subjugation these girls will go on to face.
Another transition takes place where the widows train in the art of gymnastics but the flash of combat boots reminds the audience that these arent regular girls, they are soldiers.
The mood begins to shift as the iconic Black Widow hourglass logo is shown on screen which appears on the widow’s belts as they prepare for combat.
We then see images of Drekov interacting with world leaders including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and even Vladimir Putin. It is clear that Drekov manipulated these leaders into thinking that he and his widows could contribute to world peace somehow. However, we go inside the minds of Drekov and the widows as shots of civilians are either circled, crossed off or targeted—an indication of their fate.
The widows are shown participating in world wars and are even said to have caused some of these horrific events; girls ranging from ages 14 to 24 trained to assassinate masses, solidifying that any sense of normalcy in their lives was transient, at best.
The ethos of the title sequence relies on the first moments of the opening. It starts with baby Natasha growing in the womb. She was born, never to know a normal childhood. Her and 10’s of thousands of other girls were ripped from their birth families and trained into becoming submissive towards men through efforts of brainwashing and combat training. Their agency was gone.
Through this beautifully horrific visual depiction of the widow’s process of induction into The Red Room, we see human trafficking in effect.
“The one natural resource the world has too of is girls.”
A quote uttered by Drekov when asked why he started the widow program. And so we see human trafficking as a process and as a way of thought. It’s the commodification of people, complicated by gender.
But (spoiler alert), these poor victims do see a better life for themselves at the end of the film which is something I appreciated (in true Disney fashion) but also as someone who asks for justice for victims of human trafficking. Suddenly the new and upcoming theme of this film is overall, sisterhood.
Marvel’s Black Widow is available to all Disney+ subscribers for free starting October 6th.