Johansson sures Disney

Ashley Sattler, A&E Writer

In July of 2021, Scarlett Johansson, who has played the super assassin, Black Widow, in eight Marvel films since 2010, sued the Walt Disney Company for their uncommunicated change in release strategy entailing her film. Johansson claimed the company’s malice actions involving her film, Black Widow, cost her tens of millions of dollars in revenue. On May 9, 2017, Johansson and Marvel Studios came to the agreement that the release of her film, Black Widow, would be a solely “theatrical release”. It was determined her revenue would be based largely in part on “box office receipts”, meaning movie theater ticket sales. This agreement additionally noted that the remainder of Johansson’s compensation would be made up of “box office bonuses”, an increase in pay everytime ticket sales surpassed a certain threshold. All this meant her profit from the film would be dependent on its success in theaters. Months before the launch of Disney Plus in 2019, the CEO of Disney announced that all of Disney’s newly released films would be made available on Disney Plus after their theatrical run. In light of the news, Johansson’s team reached out to Marvel, seeking assurance that the new streaming service would not have an impact on the success of Black Widow in theatres. The company’s timely response reassured Johansson and her team that they were in good hands. “We totally understand that Scarlett’s willingness to do the film and her whole deal is based on the premise that the film would be widely theatrically released like our other pictures. 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,” Marvel’s Chief Counsel said. After several postponed release dates due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Disney announced Black Widow was to be released on July 9, 2021 in both theaters and on the new Disney Plus Premier Access. Disney Plus Premier Access allows subscribers of the streaming service to watch a newly released Disney movie anywhere, as many times as desired for a fee of $29.99. This hybrid release of Black Widow in theaters and on Disney Plus was not in Johansson’s initial agreement with Marvel. The actress’ team reached out to Marvel in confusion, but they were ignored. When Black Widow was finally released on July 9, millions of fans were pulled away from theaters and towards Disney Plus. In its opening weekend, the film grossed over $60 million on Disney Plus and around $158 Million at the Worldwide Box Office. With a successful opening weekend, Black Widow seemed to be doing quite well, but ticket sales started to decline faster than expected. By the second weekend, the film broke records as it became the largest “box office collapse” in Marvel Cinematic Universe History. If Johansson’s claim that Marvel contractually agreed Black Widow would be a solely theatrical release is correct, the company’s uncommunicated change in release would be considered a breach of contract. Johansson, being a long time advocate for equal pay between men and women in Hollywood, decided to take action on this breach of her contract. On July 29, 2021, the actress filed a lawsuit against Disney. Johansson claimed in the complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, that Disney’s breach of contract was intentional, as they acted with malice, oppression, and fraud. As news of this lawsuit spread throughout the internet, an abundance of fans voiced their support for Johansson. Scarlett’s former Marvel colleague and WandaVision star, Elizabeth Olsen chimed in. “But when it comes to actors and their earnings, I mean, that’s just, that’s just all contracts…I think she’s so tough and literally when I read that I was like, ‘good for you Scarlett,’” Elizabeth Olson, Marvel actress said. On August 20, Disney fired back at Johansson, “… [The lawsuit is] especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Walt Disney Company said. “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.” Although this lawsuit has not been resolved and is currently ongoing, Johansson’s fight for just pay in the entertainment industry has influenced other actors to do the same. Both Emily Blunt, star of Jungle Cruise, and Emma Stone, star of Cruella, had a breach of contract for their recent films. Jungle Cruise and Cruella were both released on Disney Plus and in theaters, while Disney only paid them the revenue collected by theaters. While Blunt is still reportedly weighing her options, Stone has already taken action. The Cruella actress was able to renegotiate her previous contract with Disney, and even agreed to star in a second Cruella film. While Scarlett Johansson’s case is currently ongoing, this lawsuit has already made an immense impact on the film industry and looks to continue doing so for years to come.