It may have taken 23 films, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally celebrating a long-in-the-making milestone: the release of the first MCU film to be directed by a solo female filmmaker. After a series of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” is finally hitting both theaters and Disney+ more than a year after its intended release date. As the first film in the franchise’s “Phase Four,” it’s both a crucial bridge between the 22 movies that came before, and a strong suggestion of what’s to come as the series branches further out.
Despite the film’s many release date delays, its prime new summer slotting comes with a small silver lining. Shortland’s film, though an outlier in the cinematic world — at least for now — arrives as Marvel is in the midst of a push into television series that includes a strong showing from female creators. The franchise has so far released three new series on Disney+, with two of them coming from female directors, including “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” director Kari Skogland and “Loki” director Kate Herron.
For a franchise that long resisted hiring directors who were not white males — their first was Taika Waititi, whose “Thor: Ragnarok” was the 17th film in the series — it’s a major sea change, and one that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. But it’s only the start, and Shortland is eager to make sure that her success — and that of other female creators like Skogland and Herron — is just part of a new wave at Marvel.
“I think now is a chance for women to kind of kick the door down and hold it open for other women to come through, because we’ve sort of got this opportunity and we’ve got to grab it because if we don’t push for it, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Shortland said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “I think people of color are feeling the same way. It’s different, of course, the struggles are different, but I think what’s happening is spaces are being created where we can run in and grab that space and hold it for other people.”
For Shortland, that change is coming right from the top, thanks to Marvel brass like Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios executive vice president of film production Victoria Alonso.
“I think Victoria Alonso at Marvel has been really great about pushing for more women to be involved, but I also think Kevin [Feige] loves different voices,” Shortland said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “He’s such a great storyteller, and he’s not interested in telling the same story. He’s always trying to reinvent. I think that’s why he collaborates with all different people.”
As Feige told IndieWire in 2018, as the studio was celebrating the success of “Black Panther” (the first MCU film to be directed by a Black filmmaker, Ryan Coogler) and gearing up for the release of “Captain Marvel” (the first MCU film to have a woman behind the camera, as it was co-directed by Anna Boden alongside long-time creative partner Ryan Fleck), he only saw more positive change coming.
“I think it’s only the beginning,” Feige said at the time. “I think you’ll see more and more of that in front of the camera, behind the camera and that that is what is required of us as storytellers. … Certainly with the support of Bob Iger and Alan Horn at Disney, we want these movies to reflect the world in which they are made, and be brought to life by all types of people behind the camera.”
And while that change may have rolled out slowly, the MCU’s upcoming calendar offers plenty of evidence that the multi-billion-dollar franchise is embracing female filmmakers and filmmakers of color. Next up: Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals,” Nia DaCosta’s “The Marvels,” plus the return of both Waititi (“Thor: Love and Thunder”) and Coogler (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”).
On the television side, late 2021 will see the premiere of both “Ms. Marvel,” directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and Meera Menon, along with “Hawkeye,” co-directed by Rhys Thomas along with female filmmaking team Bert & Bertie. In 2022, Marvel will release a trio of series, all with female filmmakers and filmmakers of color behind the camera: Mohamed Diab is teaming with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead for “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk” will feature a pair of female directors in Kat Coiro and Anu Valia, and Ali Selim will co-direct “Secret Invasion” with Thomas Bezucha.
“Black Widow” will hit theaters and streaming on Disney+ via its Premier Access banner on Friday, July 9.