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  • Writer's pictureSam Brown

Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over ‘Black Widow’ Breach of Contract

One of the many results of the pandemic was the way we as a community consume our entertainment. Like clockwork, many studios have taken to their streaming services to release their films amid this trying time. However, as theaters began to reopen and life has begun to return to some form of normalcy (although we may be going in the wrong direction at this point), theater owners and studio heads alike all asked one very important question: “will the theatrical window resume?” While it varies, corporations like Paramount decided on a 45-day exclusivity period, while Warner Bros opted for day-in-date releases on HBO Max, at least for the remainder of 2021.

Enter Disney. In the latter half of 2020, they announced their system, “Disney+ Premier Access.” While their films would release in theaters as per usual, they would simultaneously offer them on Disney+, for the low, low price of $30. While this plan posed countless problems, perhaps chief among them is piracy. By offering 4K copies of movies on a website that can be screen-recorded with relative ease, there was no need to pay the premium as early as the morning after release.

Disney was aware of this and was hesitant to sacrifice precious profit by chucking their next Marvel film online, as shown by their data (or lack thereof) surrounding the total gross of all other Premier Access releases. Once March rolled around, it was decided that the potential benefits outweighed the drawbacks, and it was officially announced that Black Widow would be releasing in theaters and on Disney+ in July.

Come July, Black Widow opens to a resounding success. Moviegoers were prompted to wonder if the box office has returned to its former glory, given the $80 million domestic opening and $60 million total gross from Disney+ Premier Access. Notably, Black Widow’s was the first data shared by Disney from their premium program, so it’s a safe assumption that all their other numbers were embarrassing, to say the least. The excitement was short-lived, however, as the movie took an incredible 68% drop at the box office; the biggest of any Marvel film to date. This is surely in no small part due to the hasty decision to deploy this business strategy.

Now to where the drama begins. Out of the blue on Thursday afternoon, The Wall Street Journal broke that Scarlett Johansson had filed a lawsuit against Disney, stating that ”Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the [Black Widow] picture would be a 'theatrical release.'” The internet broke out into a panic, righteously so, about the incredible ramifications this could potentially have in our post-COVID movie-sphere. If what Johansson was saying turned out to be true, the ’House of Mouse‘ was in clear violation of their contract. Let’s break down why this lawsuit is so important. As executive producers often are, ScarJo was promised a cut of the theatrical gross of her film. By releasing it on Disney+, she was cheated out of all the profits it would have directly made from Premier Access buyers buying multiple tickets for family members at theaters. To make matters worse, she would also be losing an unquantifiable amount from those who pirated the film; a claim very recently backed by the head of IMAX, who went as far as to call it “cannibalization.”

Fans eagerly awaited Disney’s response, hoping for a quick and calm resolution. Upon its release later in the afternoon, it was obvious that this was just the beginning. Their reply, for lack of a better word, was abhorrent. ”The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” as claimed in a representative’s statement. “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 $20 [million] she has received to date,” They added. Disney isn‘t in a position to be making commentary on disregarding the effects of COVID, having opened their parks at the peak of Florida’s surge. Their claim is nothing more than a straw man; an attempt to pull attention away from their blatant violation of the contract. In the second half, the claim surrounding the opportunity for Premier Access to enhance her overall profit is flat-out untrue, as Disney knows full-well, considering their prior releases have been brutal and utter failures. Lastly, in their slimy last-ditch effort to turn people on Scarlett, they unveiled her $20 million paycheck for the film; the crown jewel of their “argument.” By pulling this tactic, Johansson is painted as greedy for attempting to haggle more money out of them. Luckily, most publications quickly picked up on this and were not shy about pointing out that, even if she has enough money, she’s legally entitled to more; something Disney was desperately trying to cover up with this statement.

The fact of the matter is that Disney is in the wrong, and Bob Chapek is to blame. Chapek already had his fair share of skeptics, but they will surely grow in number following this large-scale debacle. Contract issues such as these would not be settled by Kevin Feige or Alan Bergman, but by the man at the top. In fact, according to ComicBook, Feige is ”angry and embarrassed” by the situation, as he certainly should be. When he tried to settle the issue with Disney, his pleas went unanswered. Unfortunately, Disney has burned their bridge with Scarlett, who has been with Marvel for over 10 years as a cornerstone of the MCU. As of now, there are whispers that Emma Stone (Cruella) and Emily Blunt (Jungle Cruise) will follow suit filing cases against Disney for their similar treatment, but only time will tell.

This situation is actively unfolding, and this may be the calm before the storm. Stay tuned for any updates shortly.

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