Scarlett Johansson was not the first star to complain about their movie’s simultaneous debut on streaming and the big screen. But she was the first one to file legal action. She won’t be last until the studios and talent who own HBOMax and Disney+ find a middle ground that makes everyone happy.
Johansson is now suing Disney for breaching a promise not to stream Black Widow, her standalone Marvel film, until it was in theatres for a specific period.
The film’s payout was $20 million upfront, followed by a series of bonuses paid out if the film reached certain milestones at the box office. She claims that she was paid up to $50 million in bonuses when Marvel’s Disney owned streaming service released the film for $30 on the same day.
Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Black Widow” Lawsuit is Game-Changing but may be Legally Weak!
Scarlett Johansson, a long-standing Marvel star, filed suit against Walt Disney Co. last week, alleging that the studio violated her contract by simultaneously releasing Black Widow in theatres as well as on Disney+.
As compensation for Black Widow’s release on Disney+, the long-time Marvel star claims that Disney bilked Scarlett Johansson of millions of dollars. This lawsuit was a significant step and a rare example of a significant star taking to task a powerful studio, indeed Hollywood’s most powerful.
According to all accounts, insiders in the industry were shocked, and Disney responded with a blistering statement accusing Johansson of “callous disregard” for the terrible and long-lasting global effects of COVID-19. The statement denied Johansson’s complaint merit.
The lawsuit, which insiders believe will be settled out of court almost certainly, isn’t even the main point. It covers many of the most pressing issues facing today’s film industry, such as the pandemic and studios’ shift to streaming.
This dispute is a sign of an open (or at the very least public) conflict between studios and talent over how the industry will change when the tides settle.
What makes the legal case so weak? This is not the assessment many people in the talent community want to hear. Writers, actors, and directors have real concerns about their compensation in a constantly changing industry.
They also have legitimate complaints that large conglomerates are moving to benefit their digital platforms. This includes contractual obligations to Hollywood’s top creators. Johansson’s lawsuit may be a precursor to more litigation from other parties who will closely watch this case. Her suit does have some unexpected vulnerabilities.
It’s not every day that an A-list celebrity sues a significant studio. This is why Disney is the clear betting favourite against Johansson. This is not to say that these top-tier stars aren’t making legal claims. They are. They are all the time. It’s just that we don’t know.
These disputes are most often resolved behind closed doors in arbitration. Johansson claims that Disney released the film because it knew that the theatrical market was “weak” rather than waiting for a few months to see if that market recovers.
Even if Disney did indeed want to use Black Widow as support for Disney+, it is essential to remember that the original release date of this movie was May 2020. Months later, the release by Disney was already delayed for an entire year. There is no guarantee that the theatrical market will improve in the next few months, especially with concerns about the COVID-19 delta variant.
Johansson could point to industry practice, but this moment is unique in Hollywood history. Is that enough to justify the $50 million she was expecting in box office bonuses? We’ll have to wait and see. But Johansson isn’t the only one who has suffered from this pandemic. Disney should be able to exercise some discretion about how best to leverage its content.
Johansson’s camp seems to have decided that publicizing was the best strategy. Tell Wall Street about the problems that Disney’s streaming service faces. Openly discuss the possibility of Disney’s financials being examined in court.
If Disney wants to retain its top talent, it is possible to make a deal. It is also possible that the parties have been in negotiations but couldn’t reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
Stay tuned for more exclusive news and Hollywood gossip!