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Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over Streaming Release of ‘Black Widow,’ Disney and Hollywood Respond

Johansson says she was promised an exclusive theatrical release, and by putting the movie on the streaming platform, Disney and Marvel breached her contract.

BLACK WIDOW, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, 2021.  ph: Jay Maidment /© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / © Marvel Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Black Widow”

©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Update: 7/30: CAA co-chairman Bryan Lourd is showing support for Scarlett Johansson following her lawsuit against Disney on Thursday. “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 said in a statement shared by The Hollywood Reporter.

Lourd pointed out that Johansson partnered with the studio on nine movies, “which have earned Disney and its shareholders billions.” The full statement is as follows:

“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.

“Scarlett has been Disney’s partner on nine movies, which have earned Disney and its shareholders billions. 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.

“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.

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.”

Update, 5:05pm ET: A Walt Disney Company spokesperson issued the following statement reacting to Johansson’s lawsuit: “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.”

Earlier: Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit on Thursday in Los Angeles against Disney, in which she alleged that the media company breached her contract by releasing the film day and date in theaters and on the Disney+ streaming service. According to the lawsuit (as reported by The Washington Post), her agreement with Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment guaranteed a theatrical release, with her salary based largely on how the movie did at the box office.

“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 states.

IndieWire has reached out to Disney representatives for comment.

“Black Widow,” which has grossed more than $318 million worldwide since opening in theaters and on Disney+ on July 9, took one of the worst box-office drops in Marvel Cinematic Universe history between its first and second weekends. The National Association of Theater Owners blamed the film’s availability on Disney+, where consumers could rent the film at the Premium tier for $29.99, in an excoriating letter after “Black Widow” plummeted 67 percent in its second weekend.

As studios continue to prioritize streaming over theatrical exhibition, the lawsuit could portend changes in the industry. Back in May, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski sought financial compensation from Paramount Pictures when it was announced “A Quiet Place Part II” would drop on Paramount Plus 45 days after the film’s theatrical release.

Per the complaint, Johansson’s representatives wanted to renegotiate the terms of her contract upon learning of the day-and-date release strategy for “Black Widow,” her ninth (and final) appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. According to the suit, Disney and Marvel did not respond.

Reportedly, the move to put the film on Disney+ is expected to cost Johansson over $50 million, the Washington Post story claims. The story also reports that Johansson reached out to Marvel well ahead of the pandemic in 2019 for reassurance that “Black Widow” would go directly to theaters only.

The suit includes an email from Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi from March 2019, who promised a traditional theatrical release model. “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,” the email states.

In a statement, Johansson’s attorney John Berlinski said, “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. 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. 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 honor its contracts.”

Though “Black Widow” grossed $80 million domestic and $78 million overseas on its opening, post-Fourth of July weekend, the film also took in $60 million from premium streaming on Disney+.

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