Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal that Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney/Marvel alleges that the studio breached their contract with their hybrid release, adding “Black Widow” to Premier Access on Disney+ alongside a traditional domestic theatrical release. Reportedly, Johansson could have lost potential bonuses in the $50 million range by nixing a proper theatrical window.
Business Insider was one of the many outlets that published Disney’s statement regarding the lawsuit. The Mouse House shot back hard, leaning on words like “callous” of her to ask for more money during a global pandemic.
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. 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.“
Johansson’s lawyer John Berlinksi said of Disney’s response to Business Insider, “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. 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.”
While Disney mentioned the pandemic and Scarlett’s $20 million compensation, it’s worth noting they omitted a full-throated refute to the claim they breached the contract; instead, leaning on the “aren’t you paid enough?” argument for public purposes.
Matt Belloni, the editor of The Hollywood Reporter and an entertainment lawyer, gives good context to all of this in his new “What I’m Hearing” newsletter, as does Just Kroll from Variety (see his Tweet below saying that their streaming-only releases plan angered Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg). The gist? Talent in Hollywood is angry, and this could be the beginning of more suits of this kind.
First of all, he alleges that Marvel’s Kevin Feige is upset and did not want this to be a big public battle, hoping Disney could have “made this right” with Johansson before she filed suit. “Make no mistake: Feige is pissed,” Belloni wrote. “He’s a company man and not prone to corporate showdowns or shouting matches. But I’m told he’s angry and embarrassed. He lobbied Disney against the day-and-date plan for Black Widow, preferring the big screen exclusivity and not wanting to upset his talent. And then when the shit hit the fan, the movie started tanking, and Johansson’s team threatened litigation, he wanted Disney to make this right with her.”
Meanwhile, Disney didn’t seem to be terribly concerned about the pandemic when they laid off 32,000 employees along with collecting revenue from theme parks and in-person theatrical releases (“Jungle Cruise” this weekend) while the increasingly dangerous Delta variant (said to be as contagious as chickenpox) is spiking all over the United States.
Adding fuel to the fire of all this, TorrentFreak (via Deadline) revealed: “Black Widow” has been the top pirated film since its release on July 9, something that may help Johansson’s case. Disney’s direct actions by placing the film on Disney+ could be said to have hurt box office earnings and her ability to collect bonuses. It might also be seen as self-inflicted damage, as a high-resolution copy of the film was ripped from Disney+ and placed on torrent sites by online pirates (something echoed by theater owners).
While a settlement is extremely likely, this could have been worked out months ago, and Johansson alleges that Disney ignored her reps trying to do just that. Still, given the public drama, it’s very likely this won’t go to court. Belloni was also on the Hollywood Breakdown podcast with THR’s Kim Masters to discuss the lawsuit; that’s good listening and check it out below.