Scarlett Johansson, star of the latest Marvel movie “Black Widow,” sued the Walt Disney Company last Thursday for alleged breach of contract. She said that the media conglomerate acted in bad faith when they released “Black Widow” on streaming. However, her contract guaranteed it would have an exclusive theatrical release.
Lost Compensation Due To Streaming
Johansson argued that her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment specified the release of “Black Widow” to movie theaters. Her negotiated salary with the film company takes a percentage of the film’s box office revenue.
However, when Disney decided to release the movie in its Disney+ service at the same time as cinemas, she lost her ability to earn additional compensation. The suit alleged that “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”
Disney Denies Charges, Says Lawsuit Has No Merit
A Disney spokesman said Scarlett Johansson’s suit has no merit. In addition, the spokesman said it’s “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The company said it “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.”
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Meanwhile, John Berlinski, an attorney at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP who represents Johansson, said this is a test case. “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,” he said.
Streaming Releases Affects Actors’ Income
Scarlett Johansson’s suit will likely act as the litmus test for major production companies’ streaming releases. Given the pandemic’s limitation for outdoor entertainment, major media companies want their movies to go direct to streaming services in order to attract customers. However, actors and producers are hesitant to go along with the idea. They feel that doing so comes at their expense.
In addition, the suit noted that Disney executives such as Chairman Robert Iger and CEO Bob Chapek have performance bonuses dependent on the growth of Disney+.
This may have led them to decide to put “Black Widow” on streaming instead. “In short, the message to—and from— Disney’s top management was clear: increase Disney+ subscribers, never mind your contractual promises, and you will be rewarded,” the suit said.
With many major film companies also operating or partnering with streaming services, major releases online are fast becoming the norm. The pandemic’s closing or limiting theaters became the justification to go full throttle.
Companies like WarnerMedia (HBO Max), Comcast (NBCUniversal), and Disney(Disney+) all began simultaneously opening movies in theaters and in their own services.
However, not everybody forgot about the actors. WarnerMedia renegotiated many of its talent contracts to fix the box-office performance tie-ups. As part of the changes in agreements, Warner Bros reportedly paid an additional $200 million.
Watch the CNBC Television report on Actress Scarlett Johansson:
Do you support Scarlett Johansson’s suit against Disney? Did Disney act in bad faith by not renegotiating her contract prior to the release of “Black Widow” to Disney+?
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