Scarlett Johansson’s agent is blasting Disney over the company’s response to her lawsuit alleging the release of “Black Widow” breached her contract.
The actress claims the studio’s decision to release the movie on Disney+ and in theatres on the same day was in breach of her contract, which she says guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release of the film. Her salary for the Marvel movie was largely based on theatrical performance, with bonuses when the film reached certain box office benchmarks.
“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,” the suit reads. It is estimated the actress will reportedly miss out on $50 million in bonuses.
In March, Disney announced “Black Widow” and several other titles including Emma Stone’s “Cruella” would premiere simultaneously on their subscription-based streaming service with an additional premium $30 price for subscribers, as well as in markets where cinemas were open. “Black Widow” opened with an $80 million box office haul in the U.S. and Canada, with an additional $60 million on Disney+. Though the film set a COVID-19 era box office record as more theatres open, “Black Widow” is on track to be one of the lowest-grossing Marvel movies. Its current gross sits at $319 worldwide.
“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like ‘Black Widow’ directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price – and that it’s hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so,” John Berlinski, an attorney representing Johansson, told CNBC.
“But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court,” Berlinski continued in his email to CNBC. “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 honour its contracts.”
A Walt Disney Company spokesperson responded with the following statement: “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 $20 million she has received to date.”
Johansson’s agent, Bryan Lourd, fired back in a scathing statement.
“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, co-chairman of top talent group Creative Artists Agency (CAA), said in a statement to E! News. “Scarlett has been Disney’s partner on nine movies, which have earned Disney and its shareholders billions.”
Lourd continued by slamming Disney for stating that she was paid $20 million for the movie. “The company included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of. Scarlett is extremely proud of the work that she, and all of the actors, writers, directors, producers, and the Marvel creative team have been a part of for well over a decade,” he added.
“This suit was filed as a result of Disney’s decision to knowingly violate Scarlett’s contract. They have 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,” Lourd stated.
“Disney’s direct attack on her character and all else they implied is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades,” he concluded.
Disney previously said the hybrid streaming and theatrical model was in place as a pandemic measure, but the remainder of the 2021 slate will debut exclusively in theatres, beginning with “Jungle Cruise” this week.
Disney isn’t the only company that made the pandemic-related decision to release films simultaneously on streaming platforms and in theatres. Warner Bros. is also releasing their 2021 slate of films in cinemas and on the U.S.-only streaming platform HBO Max, leading filmmakers and talent such as “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve and stars Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin to speak out against the decision.