Disney is being sued by Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson over the company’s decision to offer the movie simultaneously in cinemas and on Disney+ via its Premier Access service.
The case filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Johansson’s lawyers alleges that the star, whose salary was in part based on the film’s box office performance, was promised a “wide theatrical release” and that it was “well understood” this did not include streaming.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Johansson could be out of US$50 million as a part of Disney’s streaming decision. The case is being treated by some as a litmus test for how Hollywood contracts will be handled as the industry increasingly looks to this hybrid model of streaming and cinemas.
The damning lawsuit states: “Disney knew that the cannibalization of [box office receipts] by Disney+ would save Marvel (and by extension, Disney) ‘very large’ amounts of money that it would otherwise owe Ms. Johansson. On information and belief, Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the Agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realising the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”
The lawsuit goes on to claim that Johansson understood that the mention of a theatrical release in her contract would ensure that Black Widow would “initially be released exclusively in movie theatres, and that it would remain exclusively in movie theatres for a period of between approximately 90 and 120 days
Responding to the lawsuit, a Disney 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 US$20 million she has received to date.”
This is not the first time that a Hollywood star has spoken out against this shift to streaming in the Covid-19 pandemic. After WarnerMedia announced that it would be making its 2021 slate of films available simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max, a number of famous personalities including Denis Villeneuve and Christopher Nolan stated their disappointment. Meanwhile, husband and wife duo John Krasinski and Emily Blunt earlier this year had a dispute with ViacomCBS over its decision to reduce the theatrical window of A Quiet Place Part 2 in favour of making the film available on Paramount+.
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