Disney’s response to Scarlett Johansson’s “Black Widow” lawsuit is being branded by Time’s Up, Women in Film Los Angeles and ReFrame as a “gendered character attack.”
In a joint statement released Friday, the advocacy groups wrote:
“While we take no position on the business issues in the litigation between Scarlett Johansson and The Walt Disney Company, we stand firmly against Disney’s recent statement which attempts to characterize Johansson as insensitive or selfish for defending her contractual business rights. This gendered character attack has no place in a business dispute and contributes to an environment in which women and girls are perceived as less able than men to protect their own interests without facing ad hominem criticism.”
On Thursday, the Marvel star filed a lawsuit against Disney, alleging a breach of contract when the studio released “Black Widow” in theaters and on Disney+ for streaming simultaneously. Johansson’s lawsuit argues that the studio tried to use the movie to grow its streaming service subscriptions at the expense of her earnings, which were expected to be “based largely on box office receipts.”
Disney’s statement stated that she had already been paid $20 million for the film and that the release on Disney+ boosted her ability to “earn additional compensation.”
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” a Walt Disney Company spokesperson said. “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.”
Earlier this week, Johansson’s attorney, John Berlinski, called Disney’s decision a way of “hiding” behind COVID-19.
“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like ‘Black Widow’ directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price – and that it’s hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so. But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court,” Berlinski wrote in a statement. “This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”
“Black Widow” has grossed $162 million at the domestic box office and $160 million internationally, with Disney reporting a total of $60 million globally in paid streaming sales on opening weekend.
Provided that she can prove damages, one agent told TheWrap that Disney might have to pay Johansson to make up for what she would have made from the film hitting box office targets.
“They’re going to have to cut a check for at least $50 million to ScarJo (and likely more) and also for other similarly situated talent on their films that are doing simultaneous theatrical/streaming releases,” the top agent told TheWrap.