Scarlett Johansson, well-known for her Marvel role as Natasha Romanov AKA Black Widow, is suing Disney-owned Marvel Studios.
In documents obtained by USA Today, the suit filed against the movie studio today (July 29) alleges that her contract was breached when Black Widow was released on the Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut.
In the lawsuit, Johansson said her agreement with Marvel Studios guaranteed an exclusive movie theaters release and her salary was based largely on box-office performance.
The suit alleges 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.” Johansson’s representatives wanted to renegotiate her contract after learning of the Disney+ release strategy for Black Widow, but the suit said that Disney and Marvel were “unresponsive to the request.”
The lawsuit includes an email dated back from March 2019 where Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi said the release would go according to a traditional theatrical model reading, “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.”
“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,” Johansson’s attorney John Berlinski said 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.”
Because of the pandemic, Disney released films like Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella and, most recently, Black Widow on Disney+, as theaters were closed down. Disney+ subscribers would be able to watch the films the same day as their theatrical release for a higher fee of $29.99 as part of their “Premier Access.”
Black Widow set a pandemic box-office record earlier this month with an $80 million opening weekend in domestic theaters. Disney announced that the film also initially made $60 million additionally globally via Disney+ but has declined to release streaming numbers since.
Johansson skipped the Black Widow premiere and red-carpet events, but she did do press interviews for the movie. She praised Disney for letting the Black Widow filmmakers tackle issues on screen such as child trauma and reproductive rights for women.
“It’s very brave in a lot of ways that Marvel let us go there,” she said. “They understand the importance of their massive reach and that you can actually try to provoke some sort of collective consciousness about these very serious subjects.”