So we all knew that July would be the month that the Black Widow went to war, but while that was the date of her long-delayed solo Marvel movie, we didn’t know it would also be the month that star Scarlett Johansson went to war with Marvel Studios owner, Disney.
It’s been quite a week with the surprise announcement that Johansson was suing Disney over the movie’s release. To clarify the details, Scarlett claims that one of the conditions in her contract for the role was the promise of a considerable bonus should the film reach a certain, expected level at the box-office. As almost all other Marvel/Disney movies have – and given that the Black Widow movie was an intended tentpole event, there was no reason to suppose that alleged bonus wouldn’t be paid. However, the COVID restrictions meant the film was only released in a small amount of cinemas and was simultaneously launched on the Disney+ subscription channel, hence less profits, in the short term at least. Johansson’s legal team allege that Disney‘s decision was made to promote their new subscription platform’s profits at the cost of their client’s bonus. Johansson’s team also said as far back as 2019 they asked for assurances that the film would be released in an agreed cinema-only strategy and they have apparently presented an early response from the studio noting that “We understand that should the plan change, we would need to discuss this with you and come to an understanding as the deal is based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses…”
However, the lawyers said there was an attempt to clarify and renegotiate the contract based on the 2020/2021 COVID situation, but that they received no response to their request.
Disney/Marvel are well known for calculating what they are going to pay their stars by the prospects of the movie, often paying their actors a smaller-proportioned salary but with a generous profits-share/back-end agreement or similar. Normally in these kind of disputes, a major studio like Disney would be expected to issue a ‘no comment’ comment and wait for their lawyers to quietly hammer out a new deal behind closed doors. But not this time. In an unprecedented response, Disney not only publicly disputed her claims but made what some consider a thinly-veiled personal attack on her character…
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” Disney said in their Thursday statement. “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 $20 [million] she has received to date…”
You’ll note that the Disney statement reveals the actor’s basic payment for the role – $20 million – something that’s usually confidential. The Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s premiere talent agencies and who represent her, slammed Disney‘s choice to release of her salary.
“The company included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of,” Bryan Lourd, co-chairman of the organisation noted. “Scarlett is extremely proud of the work that she, and all of the actors, writers, directors, producers, and the Marvel creative team have been a part of for well over a decade. Disney’s direct attack on her character and all else they implied is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades…”
It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the implications – both to stars’ salaries and the release-strategies of movies – are obvious.