Updated Monday, August 2
Brian Lourd, Scarlett Johansson’s agent and the co-chairman of CAA talent agency in Los Angeles, has called Disney out. In a statement, he lambasted the Disney studio for their comments regarding ScarJo’s lawsuit about her Black Widow paycheck. He says Disney’s comments about Johansson amount to “a direct attack on her character.”
After Disney’s appalling rebuttal of Scarlet Johansson’s lawsuit, her agent issued this statement:
“I want to address the Walt Disney Company’s statement that was issued in response to the lawsuit filed against them yesterday by our client Scarlett Johansson. They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global COVID pandemic, in an attempt to make her appear to be someone they and I know she isn’t. 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. 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.”Bryan Lourd, co-chairman, Creative Artists Agency
It also appears that other Disney leading women are now considering lawsuits against the Walt Disney Company. According to BGR, both Emma Stone and Emily Blunt are weighing their options on similar lawsuits for Cruella and Jungle Cruise, respectively.
“This suit was filed as a result of Disney’s decision to knowingly violate Scarlett’s contract,” Lourd’s statement continues. “[Disney has] very deliberately moved the revenue stream and profits to the Disney+ side of the company leaving artistic and financial partners out of their new equation. That’s it, pure and simple. Disney’s direct attack on [Johansson’s] character and all else they implied is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades.”
As it stands, Scarlett Johansson is looking like a real hero as she battles studio giant Disney for the money that she rightfully earned. The more that Disney tries to avoid paying a woman who earned them millions of dollars in revenue, the worse their reputation looks in the eyes of the public.
Scarlett Johansson’s newest movie, Black Widow, hit theaters and Disney+ earlier this month. It’s that second part that has ScarJo frustrated with Disney, though.
According to a lawsuit filed by the actor, her contract included stipulations regarding how much she’d get paid in terms of bonuses. Those bonuses, it turns out, were based on box office performance. Not streaming numbers.
ScarJo and her lawyers are contending that Black Widow suffered at the box office due to the simultaneous release on Disney+. Unlike theater owners who have raised similar concerns, though, Johansson actually has some legal recourse against Disney.
According to the lawsuit, her contract included a stipulation that her films would receive an exclusive theatrical release. If true, this suit could change the future of simultaneous streaming releases.
The Devil’s in the Details
Scarlett Johansson has been in a lot of Marvel movies, but Black Widow was her first outing as a headliner. As such, she probably expected quite the payday for the film. Since the movie underperformed at the box office, though, she likely received a lot less compensation than she was expecting.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, ScarJo’s contract stipulates she’ll be paid bonuses based on theatrical returns for her movies. According to the suit, Johansson could be missing out on somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million.
Why do we know how much she should have been paid? Disney released Black Widow on Disney Premier Access, a service that requires viewers to buy access to watch a new film. As such, the numbers are plainly accessible, showing just how many people saw the film through streaming instead of watching it in theaters.
The lawsuit also includes an email from Disney to Johansson’s lawyers from 2019 that discusses the need to renegotiate her contract in light of the trend to release films on streaming platforms. “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,” the Disney rep writes in that email.
Disney issued a surprisingly direct response to Johannson’s suit, calling it “distressing” and attempting to paint themselves as the victim in this case.
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” the statement reads.
“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The statement goes on, “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.”
The response drew swift condemnation from many on social media, with critics calling the company out over how dismissive the language of the statement was.
What This Means for Johannson–and the Movie Industry
Some spoilers for MCU films will follow after this point, so consider yourself warned.
Natasha Romanov is dead in the MCU, but some fans were holding out hope that ScarJo could appear in later films in flashbacks or alternate timelines. This is unlikely to occur now, if only because it’s hard to imagine the actor working for Disney again after taking them to court.
There are other factors that could be shifted dramatically by this case, too. For one thing, Disney is hardly the only company releasing films on streaming services. Warner Bros. is also doing this with their HBO Max service, which has already spawned a lawsuit from the stars of A Quiet Place Part II.
In the case of HBO Max releases, it’ll be harder for plaintiffs to prove how much, exactly, they lost in box office bonuses from streaming releases. Johansson’s case seems like it should be even more straightforward, however, thanks to Premier Access giving her lawyers some actual hard numbers to work with.
It’s possible that this lawsuit could fundamentally alter the way companies release films on streaming services. Or, at the very least, it could change the way film production companies word contracts with their actors!