Who’s stronger: the Black Widow or the House of Mouse? Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over the release of Black Widow. She’s alleging the company used the pandemic to neglect its contractual obligations to artists. Disney says ScarJo is ignoring the realities of the COVID-19 era. Here’s everything we know.
What the lawsuit is all about.
On Thursday, July 29, Johansson’s representatives filed a suit against Disney, alleging the company broke its contract with the star by releasing Black Widow on Disney+ via Premier Access. (This meant Disney+ subscribers had to pay an additional fee to watch the movie; even still, this siphoned away potential in-theater audiences.) Johansson filmed Black Widow a long time ago, presumably under the impression it would be released only in theaters. Per Deadline, Johansson’s contract entitled her to a percentage of the movie’s box office theatrical revenue. Obviously, putting Black Widow on Disney+ affected the film’s box office potential.
“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price–and that it’s hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so,” Johansson’s attorney, John Berlinsk, said in a statement, according to Deadline. “But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court. This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”
Scarlett Johansson’s filing also mentions the hefty paychecks earned by top Disney executives and mentions the actor was “promised” by Marvel that Black Widow would be a big-screen premiere.
Of course, Black Widow isn’t the only movie Disney has released in this manner. When theaters were completely shuttered in the United States, the company made Mulan available via Premier Access. Onward too skipped the box office and went straight to streaming. Cruella was available via Premier Access and in theaters in May 2021.
Disney’s response sparked backlash.
On July 30, Disney responded, accusing the actor of ignoring the realities of the pandemic. “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date,” said a spokesperson.
Time’s Up, Women in Film, and ReFrame referred to Disney’s response as a “gendered character attack” in a new post defending Johansson on July 30. “While we take no position on the business issues in the litigation between Scarlett Johansson and The Walt Disney Company, we stand firmly against Disney’s recent statement which attempts to characterize Johansson as insensitive or selfish for defending her contractual business rights,” the joint statement read on Instagram.
“This gendered character attack has no place in a business dispute and contributes to an environment in which women and girls are perceived as less able than men to protect their own interests without facing ad hominem criticism,” the statement continued.
Disney hopes to keep things confidential.
On August 20, Disney filed a motion to move the lawsuit to binding arbitration in New York, according to court documents obtained by People. Arbitration is defined by the American Bar Association as a “private process where disputing parties agree that one or several individuals can make a decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments.”
Johansson’s lawyer fired back at this motion, saying, “after initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in a confidential arbitration.”
“Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public?” he continued, per People. “Because it knows that Marvel’s promises to give Black Widow a typical theatrical release ‘like its other films’ had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn’t cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney+ subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened — and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it.”
We will update this post as events unfold.