Black Widow and the Red Stain of Sin


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For a movie about a former assassin haunted by her past, Black Widow opens on a surprisingly peaceful note.

As the camera floats through a hazy summer night sky in 1995 suburban Ohio, we see young Natasha (Ever Anderson) and her little sister Yelena (Violet McGraw) catching fireflies under the loving watch of their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz). When their father Alexei (David Harbour) returns home from work, the idyll shatters. Alexei and Melina grab the girls and escape to an airfield, forcing Natasha to fight the mysterious agents in pursuit. The quartet escapes to Russia, where we discover that they are not Americans—nor are they even family. Alexei and Melina are Soviet spies, while Natasha and Yelena are trainees in the Black Widow program, which uses brainwashing and physical abuse to turn young girls into government killers. 

This façade of peace recontextualizes the Natasha Romanoff we’ve known since her first Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance, in 2010’s Iron Man 2. Played by Scarlett Johansson, Natasha (aka Black Widow) has been defined by guilt. All of her actions, from spying on Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 to sacrificing herself in Avengers: Endgame, have been attempts to cleanse her sins. As she so memorably put it in The Avengers, Natasha believes she has “red in her ledger” and wants desperately to wipe it off. But if even her happy childhood is a lie, what does redemption for Natasha Romanov look like?

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