Scarlett Johansson, well known for her roles as Natasha Romanoff and Black Widow in Marvel Studios films, has filed a lawsuit against Disney, the parent company of Marvel Studios, for breaching her contract. In the United States, the actor’s first and possibly final standalone MCU film, Black Widow, was released in theatres and on Disney+’s PVOD service, Premier Access, at the same time.
According to the lawsuit, Johansson’s contract was breached when Disney decided on a hybrid theatrical and streaming release format for the film, which she signed when she agreed to star in a standalone Black Widow film. The lawsuit also claims that Disney intended to leverage the film and ScarJo’s celebrity power to promote Disney+, the company’s streaming service.
The simple and perhaps correct explanation is that the studio has already had success with the releasing strategy with Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Cruella de Vil. Those who did not feel safe enough to go out might purchase the film and view it from the security of their own homes. Also, according to the lawsuit, it was a simple method to boost Disney+ subscribers and compete with Netflix on its own field.
In December 2020, Disney’s rival Warner Bros. made headlines by declaring that every film released in 2021 will be a hybrid theatrical and HBO Max release. This could have also influenced Disney’s choice.
Disney’s reaction has been unexpectedly aggressive. It dismissed the lawsuit by saying 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.”
If we talk about how much loss happened in Scarlett’s pay from the box office, it was reportedly $20 million, according to Disney’s statement. This is unlikely to include the bonuses performers receive when a film’s box office exceeds projections. Black Widow, on the other hand, has slowed down dramatically following a massive global opening and has gathered $319.45 million worldwide since its July 9 release date. ScarJo is furious that Disney chose a restricted release when not all theatres across the world, let alone in North America, are open due to the impact of Covid-19.
A lawsuit was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter, “Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the Picture in theatres at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover? On information and belief, the decision to do so was made at least in part because Disney saw the opportunity to promote its flagship subscription service using the Picture and Ms. Johansson, thereby attracting new paying monthly subscribers, retaining existing ones, and establishing Disney+ as a must-have service in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, people close to Johansson estimate that the choice to distribute the movie concurrently on Disney Plus cost her $50 million in lost incentives (about Rs 370 crore).
Despite its hostile tone, Disney’s letter suggests that Scarlett stood to collect additional money on top of her wage. However, it’s possible that the studio added the line to placate the actor and that it wasn’t part of the deal.
According to THR, Warner Bros. had to pay almost $200 million in compensation to actresses and filmmakers such as Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins, and Will Smith.