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Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over ‘Black Widow’ Release

While Scarlett Johansson’s time as an Avenger has come to an end, the star has filed a lawsuit against Disney for breach of contract. The suit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court and alleges that Johansson’s contract with Marvel Entertainment, which is owned by Disney, ensured a “wide theatrical release” of the film.

The suit says it’s “well understood” that the agreement meant an exclusive release that would not include streaming. Johansson’s salary was in part based on the box office performance of the film, the suit says, meaning the streaming offer could meaningfully cut into her paycheck.

The filing states, “As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the Picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.”

The lawsuit alleges that Disney had two primary motivations for the hybrid release. First, it argues, Disney wanted to boost subscriber numbers for its streaming service and inflate its stock value. Second, the suit states, “Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms. Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself.”

The pandemic has fundamentally transformed the way first-run movies are delivered and consumed — at least in the short term. In 2020, Disney and other studios opted to release films straight to streaming, rather than suffer perpetual delays and poor box office numbers as restrictions closed the non-essential business of movie theaters. More recently they’ve split the difference as movie theaters have reopened, offering same day streaming.

The statement accuses Disney of “hiding behind COVID-19,” though certainly the studio wasn’t alone in rethinking its release strategy over the past year. The question remains whether the pandemic will serve as sufficient extenuating circumstances for its release decisions. The outcome of the trial, meanwhile, could well have a profound effect on how studios release blockbusters post-pandemic.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Johansson could lose $50 million because of the altered release plans, which first reported the lawsuit. In a statement, a Walt Disney Company spokesperson said there’s “no merit whatsoever to this filing.”

Disney issued the following response to the suit, “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.”

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