The Black Widow star filed suit against Disney on July 29, 2021, alleging breach of contract. The breach in question: Black Widow‘s simultaneous release in theaters and on the “Premier Access” level of its still-new streamer, Disney+.
Here’s more from CNN Business:
The suit alleges that Johansson agreed that her salary for the film would be based, in large part, on the film’s box office haul.
“To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the picture would be a ‘theatrical release,'” the suit claimed.
“As Ms. 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 movie theatres.”
Oof. If that’s awkward enough for a Marvel fan to read, then Disney’s shot across Johansson’s bow in response was next-level cringeworthy, and the actress, according to representatives, was “shocked by the tone.”
It’s easy to see why. Here’s a key portion of Disney’s salvo back, per The Hollywood Reporter:
In a statement, a Disney spokesperson responded, “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.”
Making it sound like Scarjo could care less about the COVID-19 pandemic—and therefore, the millions who have been stricken by the virus—smacks of an attempt to bring not just a gun but a cannon to a knife fight. Pointing out her salary for the movie doesn’t soften the blow.
Johansson’s agent, Bryan Lourd, didn’t pull punches in a response released to Deadline:
I want to address the Walt Disney Company’s statement that was issued in response to the lawsuit filed against them yesterday by our client Scarlett Johansson. They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global COVID pandemic, in an attempt to make her appear to be someone they and I know she isn’t.
Lourd went on to say that the “suit was filed as a result of Disney’s decision to knowingly violate Scarlett’s contract,” which promised a hefty chunk of box office receipts, and Disney “very deliberately moved the revenue stream and profits to the Disney+ side of the company leaving artistic and financial partners out of their new equation. That’s it, pure and simple.”
Deadline has a copy of Johansson’s lawsuit, and it’s interesting reading if you can look past the legalese.
As far as what happens next, Disney may at least change if not soften its tone, as the aggressive language certainly looked like punching down, despite Johansson’s undeniable star power.
He seemed like a random Deadline choice for a quote, but former presidential and New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang’s response was characteristic of a lot of social media commentary from fans and celebs alike regarding Disney’s fierce clap back at one of its most visible and beloved Marvel stars.
Yang tweeted in part, “Disney does not want to be feuding with its talent in this way. Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone and Emily Blunt are much more sympathetic to the public than the $300B Mouse House.”
Black Widow is still in theaters and on Disney+, but it might be a good idea to check it out before legal machinations end up making it unavailable.