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Scarlett Johansson sues over ‘Black Widow’ streaming release, Disney calls lawsuit ‘callous’

  • July 29, 2021

Scarlett Johansson, longtime Marvel actress and star of the new superhero hit “Black Widow,” filed a lawsuit against the movie studio in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday. In documents obtained by USA TODAY, the suit alleges that her contract was breached when “Black Widow” was released on the Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut.

In the lawsuit, Johansson said her agreement with Marvel Studios guaranteed an exclusive release in movie theaters and her salary was based in large part on box-office performance.

The suit alleges that “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.” In addition, the actress’ representatives wanted to renegotiate her contract after learning of the Disney+ release strategy for “Black Widow” but the suit said that Disney and Marvel were unresponsive to the request.

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In a statement to USA TODAY, a spokesperson for Disney said there is “no merit whatsoever” to the filing and called the suit “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The company insists it “fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract” and also pointed out that the Premier Access release “has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”

set a pandemic box-office record earlier this month with an $80 million opening weekend in domestic theaters. Disney announced that the film also initially made $60 million additionally globally via Disney+ but has declined to release streaming numbers since. 

Negotiating talent contracts around changing release plans is tricky territory. When Warner Bros. announced “Wonder Woman: 1984” would simultaneously stream on HBO Max over Christmas – while also shuffling its entire 2021 slate to a theater-and-streaming model, to major uproar – star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins renegotiated an extra $10 million each to get on board, according to the New York Times

“It’s OK to demand or to ask what you’re worth (and) we shouldn’t be shy about it,” Gadot told USA TODAY last December.

Johansson’s lawsuit name-checks the evolving “Wonder Woman: 1984” deal structure.

“In the months leading up to this lawsuit, Ms. Johansson gave Disney and Marvel every opportunity to right their wrong and make good on Marvel’s promise,” the lawsuit reads. “Unlike numerous other movie studios, however – including Warner Brothers who, on information and belief, settled with its talent on films such as Wonder Woman after it released those films ‘day-and-date’ to its streaming service HBO Max last year – Disney and Marvel largely ignored Ms. Johansson, essentially forcing her to file this action.”

Since first appearing as Black Widow in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” Johansson has appeared in nine Marvel projects including all four blockbuster “Avengers” movies and was an executive producer on the new film.

Johansson skipped the “Black Widow” premiere and red-carpet events but she did do press interviews for the movie. In a discussion with USA TODAY, Johansson praised Disney for letting the “Black Widow” filmmakers tackle issues on screen such as child trauma and reproductive rights for women.

“It’s very brave in a lot of ways that Marvel let us go there,” she said. “They understand the importance of their massive reach and that you can actually try to provoke some sort of collective consciousness about these very serious subjects.”

Contributing: Andrea Mandell

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