The “Black Widow” star accuses Disney of a breach of contract.
By Will DiGravio Published on July 30, 2021
Short Story is a column that tells you all about your favorite – and less popular – pop culture topics. This entry deals with the story of Scarlett Johansson, who Disney sued for the release of Black Widow.
Scarlett Johansson sues Disney.
That Black widow star – who has appeared as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2010 – filed a lawsuit against Disney yesterday. Johansson’s lawsuit alleges a breach of contract by Disney for the film’s release on its Disney + streaming platform. According to the Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit states that Disney originally agreed to release the film, which premiered in the US earlier this month, only in theaters. The lawsuit says Johansson’s salary was directly tied to the movie’s box office hit.
The lawsuit has sparked back and forth between Johansson and the media company and could have a domino effect at Disney. Here is a brief history of what we know (so far) about the suit and what the response has been.
Black Widow is late
You won’t be shocked to learn that COVID-19 is what triggered much of the lawsuit. Production for the film, director: Cate Shortland, started in Norway in May 2019 and then moved to London, where Marvel made a splash by inviting journalists to the set of the film. Disney originally planned to release the film on May 1, 2020. But then, in March of that year, they indefinitely delayed the film’s release due to COVID.
As the pandemic only got worse, Disney finally announced in September that the film would be shot instead for a May 2021 release date. Black Widow’s delay made history as 2020 was the first year since 2009 that no new feature film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe was shown.
2020 will be the first year without a new Marvel movie since 2009 pic.twitter.com/OIa4Ymglks
– FILM DAZE ✨ (@filmdaze) September 23, 2020
Black Widow returns
In March of this year, Disney moved the theatrical release one last time to July 9th in the USA. But there was a catch: the movie would also be streamed on Disney + for an additional $ 29.99. A price far too high for my blood. Disney has adopted a similar model for the recently released one Cruella, a spin-off from The Hundred and One Dalmatiner, with Emma Stone.
The hybrid model is something that big production companies like Disney experimented with during the pandemic. Other works, such as the live stage recording of Hamilton and Pixars Luca, were made available to Disney + subscribers at no additional cost. The recently released Space Jam: A New Legacy, a Warner Bros. film, debuted in theaters but was also made available to HBO Max subscribers at no additional charge.
The quick spin on streaming raises many questions: Are studios only releasing these works to build their subscriber base and delight fans during the pandemic? Or will that be the new normal? Or both? Who knows what the future holds, but right now there is an irrefutable fact: despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the United States, ticket sales, although stronger now than they were in 2020, remain declining. And Black Widow is no exception.
Black Widow debuts
On the opening weekend, Black Widow grossed $ 80.4 million, or about 8.8 million tickets sold. As FSR’s Christopher Campbell noted earlier this month: “[that number] is just over half the attendance of the MCU’s previous solo superhero appearance, Captain Marvel, who sold 16.8 million tickets two years ago. But a little above the rate before that, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which sold 8.3 million tickets on its first weekend in 2018. “
Not bad! Especially when you consider the Disney + rentals raised another $ 60 million. But then the misfortune came. On its second weekend, Black Widow raked in just $ 23 million, or what . headlined to call the “steepest” second-weekend box office tumble for a Disney MCU title. Yikes
The second week numbers challenged the wisdom of Disney’s hybrid model. “What at first seemed like confirmation of a dual-release strategy turned out to be a fine example of the financial stupidity of that strategy,” wrote David Sims of The Atlantic. “If everyone can access a new blockbuster at the same time, it’s unlikely that people’s attention will be held for more than a week.”
Black Widow is fighting back
After Johansson filed the lawsuit, Disney released a statement which, as Variety put it, “strikes back in an unusually personal way.”
“This filing has no merit,” said Disney. “The lawsuit is particularly sad and harrowing because it disregards the dire and ongoing global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
I’m not a lawyer, but that seems like an absurd answer. Here’s what a real lawyer made of the answer:
If someone says you breached a contract and you start talking about global pandemics, you have breached that contract 100% https://t.co/eXhc1Jz6OF
– Law boy, Esq. (@The_Law_Boy) July 29, 2021
Disney, in another unusual move, announced that Johansson had been paid $ 20 million for her work in the film. Johansson’s team did not analyze any words in her response “You have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being impervious to the global COVID pandemic in order to make her appear as someone she and I know she is not”, Bryan Lourd, co-chair of the Creative Artists Agency, said in a statement to Variety. “The company included her salary in its press release in an attempt to turn her success as an artist and a businesswoman into a weapon, as if to be ashamed of itself.”
How Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney could affect the future of streaming
The lawsuit could have an impact on Disney, and perhaps the industry as a whole. According to Matt Belloni, former Hollywood reporter editor and author of the “What I’m Hearing” newsletter (via ScreenRant), Stone should “weigh their options” and consider filing his own lawsuit. Belloni also mentions Emily Blunt, Star of the recently released Jungle cruise, as a different performer who can join the fight.
No matter what, the entertainment industry will undoubtedly change with these new hybrid distribution models and the general trend towards streaming. As the original Wall Street Journal article reports:
The lawsuit also finds that the annual bonuses for Disney Chairman Robert Iger and Chief Executive Bob Chapek are tied to Disney + performance and cites this as further motivation to put Black Widow into service.
It can only be assumed that more and more interpreters and creators of these works want to take part. And if they win these suits, I hope they give the rest of the cast and crew at least a little more money. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
Related topics: Brief history
Will DiGravio started writing for Film School Rejects in 2018. He also hosts The Video Essay Podcast and owns a television.