Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney for breach of contract after they put her new movie Black Widow on their streaming service Disney Plus at the same time they released it in theatres.
Johansson argues that the decision meant she was deprived of potential earnings. The BBC reports that Johansson could have lost $50 million in earnings because of its relatively poor performance at the box office.
Johansson claims she was promised that Black Widow would be a “theatrical release” and would only move to Disney Plus after a window of time had passed. Disney has since responded to the lawsuit, saying it had “fully complied” with her contract and that her case had “no merit whatsoever”. The studio also accused Johansson of having a “callous disregard for the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“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.” a spokesperson for the Walt Disney Company said. “Disney has fully complied with Ms Johansson’s contract, and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney Plus with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”
Johansson says she tried to renegotiate her contract after learning they planned on releasing the action movie both theatrically and on streaming but says that Disney was unresponsive to her requests.
“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney Plus 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,” said Johansson’s attorney John Berlinski. “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 finished his statement by saying that this won’t be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and “makes it clear that it has a legal obligation to honour its contracts.”
Several Hollywood studios have experimented with a hybrid theatrical-streaming release in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting traditional cinema releases. It was hoped that the strategy would reinvigorate the global box office, but a number of filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve, have criticised the plan.