What’s Up Down Under? Cate Shortland Scores Marvel’s BLACK WIDOW — Alexandra Heller-Nicholas reports

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cate shortland head 1After a distinct spike in the rumor-mill in mid-June regarding the likelihood of Australian director Cate Shortland directing the much-anticipated Marvel Black Widow stand-alone film, a month later the news was confirmed. Shortland’s previous features Somersault (2004), Lore (2012), and Berlin Syndrome (2017) all center on strong women characters, and despite their low production values when compared to the usual superhero blockbuster fare, Shortland’s ability to craft sophisticated yet accessible women characters was no doubt a key factor in her attaining the job. Shortland won the high-profile Black Widow job over some impressive competition, including British filmmaker Amma Asante of 2016’s acclaimed A United Kingdom, and Maggie Betts, whose 2017 debut feature Novitiate was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Continue reading…


Shortland herself is no stranger to formal accolades, however. Born in 1968 in the small town of Temora in the Australian state of New South Wales’s Riverina district 1968, Shortland is one of Australia’s most celebrated contemporary film directors. She grew up in country’s capital city Canberra – a small government town just south of Sydney – and moved north to the more famous city to study at the prestigious Australian Film, Television and Radio School whose other alumni include Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion.

The high standard of Shortland’s work was identified early during her time at AFTRS, and after a number of shorts and a period working on television, her much anticipated debut Somersault was a great success. The indie romance played at a range of high profile international film festivals, and amongst its many nods in terms of formal awards recognition was its nomination for Cannes’ prestigious Un Certain Regard Award. A romantic drama starring Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington, Somersault also swept the Australian Film Industry awards in 2004, winning all awards on offer to a single feature-length movie.

Shortland’s made-for-television movie The Silence (2006) followed, a police drama that focused on a central male character and thus demonstrating Shortland’s flexibility and the ease with which she can showcase male characters also. Another feature film followed, the powerful war movie Lore. Based on Rachel Seiffert’s celebrated novel The Dark Room (2001), it revealed Shortland’s flair for working across different genres and – perhaps just as importantly in the case of the Black Widow project – her skills in adapting highly regarded source material to the screen, balancing a sense of fidelity to the original with her own strong stylistic and thematic vision.


Most recently, Shortland again took a striking generic turn with her 2017 psychological horror film, Berlin Syndrome. Again another adaptation – here reworked from Melanie Joosten’s 2011 novel of the same name – Berlin Syndrome follows Australian woman Clare (Teresa Palmer) and her experiences in the German city after a one-night stand with Andi (Max Riemelt) is revealed to be something more sinister. Premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.

scarlett johanssonblack widowShortland’s appointment to direct the much-anticipated Black Widow film is a coup for the Australian filmmaker. She won the coveted job after the prospective candidates list was pared down from an original total of more than 70 possible directors. Shortland’s candidacy apparently received significant support from Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson, who is a declared fan of Shortland’s Lore

Shortland’s Black Widow win is eye-opening for a number of reasons: not only is she a filmmaker relatively new to the Hollywood film industry, but at the time she was offered the job and signed the contract, she did not even have agency representation.

Shortland’s appointment to helm the second of Marvel’s woman-focused features — after the upcoming Captain Marvel — promises to bring something fresh to a franchise that for many fans and skeptics alike could be positively bolstered by a fresh, original directorial voice. Shortland has the expertise to do precisely this.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).