Scarlet Johansson has filed a lawsuit against Disney for releasing Black Widow on its OTT platform Disney+ at the same time the Marvel movie was released in theatres. The actress claims this cost her millions of dollars in backend compensation. The court filing stated that those bonuses were tied to hitting box office benchmarks that Black Widow likely won’t achieve.
This lawsuit comes at a pivotal moment for Hollywood, as the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated several trends at once – streaming has become the focal point of Hollywood while movie theatres and the box office struggle to return to normalcy following a pandemic that ravaged its business.
Disney is countering that it complied with the terms of Johansson’s deal to star in the Avengers spinoff film. “There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” Disney said. “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It said Johansson, Disney, Marvel and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a “theatrical release” is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movies theatres, the court filing says. The suit alleges that Johansson agreed that her salary for the film would be based, in large part, on the box office haul.
“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,” Disney’s official statement said.
According to the actress’ lawsuit, Johansson’s representatives had sought assurances that Black Widow would be released in theatres as far back as 2019. There were concerns that Disney executives might use the film to pad its new streaming service Disney+. The lawsuit cited a response from Marvel’s chief counsel, which stated Black Widow would be released like other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would have a theatrical run before going to the home video market. “We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses,” the response stated. It should be noted that this statement was provided months before the pandemic disrupted the movie theatre industry and forced studios to shift theatrical release strategies.
John Berlinski, attorney for Johansson, told CNN Business that 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 its 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.” Berlinski said 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.
Disney had made big waves back in March when it had announced that Black Widow would be released on Disney+ for an extra charge and in theatres simultaneously. This movie was slated for release in May of 2020 but was delayed multiple times due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.