Disney CEO Bob Chapek defended the distribution strategy behind “Black Widow” that led to a lawsuit filed by star Scarlett Johansson last month.
”Both Bob Iger and I, along with the distribution team, decided this was the best strategy because it enabled us to reach the broadest audience,” Chapek said on Disney’s earnings call on Thursday.
He added: “Distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis, based on market conditions and consumer behavior.”
His response sidestepped the issue that Johansson raised in her lawsuit — which was not about the studio’s decision to release the Marvel film simultaneously in theaters and as a premium streaming release on Disney+ but about how that decision impacted the compensation plan under her contract. According to the actress, her contract was worded around an exclusive theatrical release, and her compensation included significant bonuses based on the film’s box office grosses that insiderstold the Wall Street Journal could add up to $50 million.
“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 said.
In a sharply worded response that drew significant blowback around Hollywood, Disney said the lawsuit had “no merit whatsoever” and called Johansson “callous” for asking for more than her upfront salary of $20 million.
During Thursday’s earnings call, Chapek defended the move — and noted that it had successfully negotiated with other stars in the last year. “Since COVID has begun, we have entered into hundreds of talent arrangements with our talent, and by and large they have gone very smoothly,” he said.
After the lawsuit was filed, entertainment executives, agents and producers were split on whether Chapek is to blame for the “carnage” to the company’s standing in Hollywood’s talent community. Furthermore, the feeling that Bob Iger would have handled this differently was all the more pronounced.
When asked how COVID is impacting the way Disney attracts and compensates talent, Chapek said, “Certainly this is a time of anxiety in the marketplace and a lot has changed recently, and again these films that we’re releasing right now are imagined under a completely different environment than unfortunately fate has delivered us, but we’re trying to do the best thing for all our constituents, and make sure that everybody who’s in the value chain feels like they’re having their contractual commitments honored, both from a distribution, and a compensation standpoint.”