Marvel Cinematic Universe newcomer Florence Pugh describes Black Widow as a "painful" but "powerful" piece about the abuse of women. The Marvel Studios spy thriller, set in-between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, follows a fugitive Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) as she confronts her traumatic past as a product of Russia's Red Room. While Natasha unravels a dangerous conspiracy, she reunites with her found family before the Avengers, including Yelena Belova (Pugh) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), both members of the lethal Black Widow program.
"One of the most interesting things about the film is how far [director Cate Shortland] went with it," Pugh told Total Film. "This film is about the abuse of women. It's about how they get involuntary hysterectomies by the age of eight. It's about girls who are stolen from around the world. It's so painful, and it's so important."
Natasha's abusive backstory is glimpsed in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the super-spy tells Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) of a "graduation ceremony" involving the forced sterilization of the Red Room's stolen girls.
"Part of the excitement for me is that women and girls from around the world are going to see this, and are going to see an abuse story that really was challenged by its own victims. For a Marvel film to be reaching all of those levels, it is so exciting," Pugh said. "The best thing about that is, it's not layered with this color of grey. You'll see these women strive and be strong, and they're assassins — and yet they still need to discuss how they were abused. It's an incredibly powerful piece."
Shortland views Natasha's lack of superpowers as a strength "because she always has to dig really deep to get out of sh-t situations," the director said. "And we just put her in a lot of hard situations."
"Natasha's like [Jodie Foster’s Clarice] from The Silence Of The Lambs. It's great because when she holds her gun, it shakes. But she's still really tough inside, and resilient. And I wanted to bring that to the character," Shortland added. "So you're not just watching her fly through situations, knowing she'll get out of it. You want to see her grit and determination. And that's what we got."
Black Widow is scheduled to open November 6 from Disney and Marvel Studios as the first film in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.