Disney CEO Bob Chapek Describes ‘Reset’ on Film Talent Deals Amid Scarlett Johansson Fallout

“We’re just sort of figuring out our way to bridge that gap,” he says

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Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Tuesday that the company is in “a bit of a reset” when it comes to how they approach talent deals in the wake of the lawsuit with Scarlett Johansson over “Black Widow.”

Though he didn’t mention Johansson by name, Chapek referred to film deals that were struck years ago and then launched in the middle of a pandemic that has changed consumer behavior.

“We’re sort of putting a square peg in a round hole where we’ve got a deal that’s conceived under a certain set of conditions that actually results in a movie that’s being released in a different set,” Chapek said at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference Tuesday. “So there’s actually a bit of a reset that’s going on right now, and ultimately we’ll think about that as we do our future talent deals and plan for that and make sure that that’s incorporated.”

Chapek said talent deals going forward will have to reflect the changing world and that the company currently is in a middle ground but that they’re “trying to do right” by talent.

“But right now we’ve got sort of this middle position where we’re trying to do right by the talent, the talent is trying to do right by us, and we’re just sort of figuring out our way to bridge that gap,” Chapek said. “But we believe that talent is our most important asset, and we’ll continue to believe that, and we’ll continue to compensate them fairly based on the terms of the contracts they agreed to us with.”

Chapek elsewhere on the call teased details about the upcoming Disney+ Day on November 12, as well as updates about how the Delta Variant has impacted — or not impacted — attendance at Disney theme parks.

Johansson’s lawsuit, which was filed July 29, claims her contract was worded around an exclusive theatrical release for “Black Widow” — which was released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on July 9 — and her compensation included significant bonuses based on the film’s box office grosses that insiders told the Wall Street Journal could add up to $50 million.

In Disney’s initial response, the company said the lawsuit had “no merit whatsoever” and called Johansson “callous” for asking for more than her upfront salary of $20 million. The studio has countered by saying that it fulfilled its theatrical obligation by releasing “Black Widow” on 9,000 screens in the U.S. The movie has since grossed $377.8 million worldwide.

In the wake of that however, Disney secured talent deals with Emma Stone for a sequel to “Cruella” after that film also debuted in Premier Access earlier in the summer and for new deals for a “Jungle Cruise” sequel with stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.