Disney doubles down in war of words with Scarlet Johansson over Black Widow lawsuit

Disney doubles down in war of words with Scarlet Johansson over Black Widow lawsuit
Lawyers claim actor’s written contract ‘is clear as a bell’

Disney appear to have doubled down in their ongoing legal battle with Scarlett Johansson.

Johansson recently filed a lawsuit against Disney over its decision to part-stream the release of Black Widow alongside a cinema release.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the actor filed the lawsuit at the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that the online release violated her contract.

The filing, which was reviewed by The Independent, alleges that Johansson’s compensation for the movie was “largely based” on Black Widow’s box office performance.

“To maximise these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the Picture would be a ‘theatrical release’. As Ms Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres,” the lawsuit states in part.

“Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the Picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.” The suit goes on to allege that “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the Agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”

“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,” John Berlinski, an attorney representing Johansson, told The Independent in a statement.

“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. 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.”

Now, longtime Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli has told Variety that the demands in Johansson’s lawsuit are “not obtainable” and alleged it was a “PR campaign.”

He told the publication: “It is obvious that this is a highly orchestrated PR campaign to achieve an outcome that is not obtainable in the lawsuit. No amount of public pressure can change or obscure the explicit contractual commitments. The written contract is clear as a bell.”

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The Walt Disney Company told The Independent last week:“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. 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.”

Streaming releases became more common during the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down cinemas for months. Major releases such as Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan were unveiled online in 2020.

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