• Dhruvi Punjani

Disney Vs Scarlett Johansson

A new front opened in Hollywood’s so called streaming wars when Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company for breaching their contract regarding the actress’ latest movie, Black Widow. The movie, had recorded Hollywood's best weekend opening of the year only to crash to one of the lowest box office grosses for a Marvel movie as it turned into a fount of controversies with the lawsuit being filed.

Why did she sue them?

While Scarjo’s superhero movie premiered in theatres worldwide, Disney simultaneously released the movie on its Disney+ Hotstar platform to boost their subscribers, in order to compete with their rival Netflix. This hybrid release model took away potential theatregoers and cost her compensation that was tied to box office revenue. This business tactic of Disney prevented her from gaining the full benefit of bargain with Marvel resulting in her losing an estimated $50 million in lost bonuses because of this sudden change of tactic by Disney. Johansson’s attorney claims that Disney had assured her that her movie Black Widow will only have a ‘theatrical’ release.

As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and mostly everyone else in Hollywood knows, a 'theatrical release' is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. 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."

Adding to it the actress’ attorney said “Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the Picture in theatres at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak’, rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover? On information and belief, the decision to do so was made at least in part because Disney saw the opportunity to promote its flagship subscription service using the Picture and Ms. Johansson, thereby attracting new paying monthly subscribers, retaining existing ones, and establishing Disney+ as a must have service in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”

Disney’s response

Disney counter-attacked by saying that strategy had “significantly enhanced Johansson’s ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20m she has received to date.” In a strongly worded statement Disney shamelessly attacked the actress’ character by saying her legal action was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.” This was taken by shock as it was utterly unprofessional of Disney to attack the character of an actress who played an important part with them in 9 blockbuster movies which have earned them billions. The company also included her salary in a public statement attempting to weaponize her success. This was unethical on Disney’s part. If the company wanted to make simultaneous releases it should not have a signed a contract with the actress stating otherwise.

Deeper Roots of Sexism?

With the actress’ lawsuit making headlines, her co-actors: Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr silence spoke volumes. It was strange to see none of them speaking up about the matter and coming to her defence.

On the contrary the above actors stood by their co-actor, Chris Pratts’s side, when he was surrounded by false allegations surrounding the fact that he supported a church that supported homophobia and spread hatred towards the LGBTQ community. But we can argue that Scarlet Johansson’s case is far more serious than mere accusations. It could also be argued that it could potentially harm the actors' future deals with Marvel or its parent company if they take sides on such a serious matter.

The matter also sheds light on how female actresses, no matter how popular or successful, are treated in Hollywood, and how this treatment differs from that of their male counterparts. Bigwigs like Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth were paid around 70-80 millions for their roles, making them some of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. This makes us wonder if these male actors would ever need to file such a lawsuit regarding their payment.

Future of Hollywood

With the lawsuit being filed, major concerns surrounding the Hollywood industry. The pandemic has hindered the success of theatrical releases. There is a stark decline in number of people going to theatres after the pandemic, thus making the film industry shift towards online streaming services. With the uncertainty at hand, the future of Hollywood cannot be determined. The tides of the movie industry are moving swiftly, giving rise to conflicts between great talented actors and studios. The lawsuit marked the beginning of public display of conflict, regarding the shift in film industry, against one of the most remarkable studio. Stars' revenue depended on box office success of a movie, which is no longer the case, giving rise to the question of how these actors are going to be paid with this switch to streaming services.

With these rising concerns of studios and actors, Scarjo's lawsuit gave voice to struggles of many such actors of the film industry sharing the same fate, and has encouraged others to voice their concerns regarding the industry.


~ Dhruvi Punjani

Sources: LA Times, Indian Express, BBC, EW, Investopedia