Scarlett Johansson’s Lawyer Accuses Disney of ‘Trying to Hide Its Misconduct’ With ‘Black Widow’ Arbitration Demand

“Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public?” Johansson’s attorney said Saturday

black widow Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson in "Black Widow" (Marvel Studios)

Scarlett Johansson said through her attorney Saturday that Disney is “trying to hide its misconduct” with a request to move her “Black Widow” breach of contract lawsuit to arbitration.

“After initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in a confidential arbitration,” Johansson’s attorney John Berlinski said in a statement provided to TheWrap Saturday, in response to Disney’s Friday motion to compel arbitration.

“Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public? Because it knows that Marvel’s promises to give ‘Black Widow’ a typical theatrical release ‘like its other films’ had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn’t cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney+ subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened – and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it.”

A representative for Disney did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment Saturday.

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.

(Per Disney’s Friday filing, as of Aug. 15, “Black Widow” has “grossed more than $367 million in worldwide box-office receipts and more than $125 million in streaming and download retail receipts.”)

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.

According to a motion to move Johansson’s lawsuit to arbitration filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court by Disney’s attorneys on Friday, Johansson (referred to by her loan-out company’s name, Periwinkle, in the documents) “agreed that all claims ‘arising out of, in connection with, or relating to’ Scarlett Johansson’s acting services for ‘Black Widow’ would be submitted to confidential, binding arbitration in New York.”

Per the filing, “Whether Periwinkle’s claims against Disney fall within the scope of that agreement is not a close call: Periwinkle’s interference and inducement claims are premised on Periwinkle’s allegation that Marvel breached the contract’s requirement that any release of ‘Black Widow’ include a ‘wide theatrical release’ on ‘no less than 1,500 screens. The plain and expansive language of the arbitration agreement easily encompasses Periwinkle’s Complaint.”

Disney says that, “in a futile effort to evade this unavoidable result (and generate publicity through a public filing), Perwinkle excluded Marvel as a party to this lawsuit — substituting instead its parent company Disney under contract-interference theories. But longstanding principles do not permit such gamesmanship.”

According to the document, Johansson’s “two causes of action are entirely dependent on its untenable claim that Marvel breached” its contract with the actress “by releasing ‘Black Widow’ simultaneously in theaters and on Premier Access on Disney+. The contract does not mandate theatrical distribution — let alone require that any such distribution be exclusive.”

Disney’s attorneys state that Johansson’s “claim that Marvel breached the requirement that ‘Black Widow’ be released on ‘no less than 1,500 screens’ by releasing it on more than 30,000 screens is thus as indefensible as it sounds, as Disney and Marvel will demonstrate in arbitration.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.


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