There are several reasons to support Scarlett Johansson in her legal battle with Disney. The crux of the case is whether the studio was in breach of contract when it moved BLACK WIDOW from a theatrical-only release to a hybrid release. Johansson is arguing that this rollout reduced her back-end bonuses that are tied to box office performance.
I’m not going to opine on the merits of the legal case. Instead, I’m going to dissect two of the arguments against Johansson.
ARGUMENT #1: SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS ÜBER-RICH. SHE ALREADY MADE A TON OF MONEY FOR THIS MOVIE. WHY DOES SHE NEED MORE?
Shockingly, this seems like the argument that Disney is leaning into. In the studio’s response to the lawsuit, Disney highlighted the fact that Johansson already made $20M. There was even a whiff of condescension, as if to say she should be grateful for that.
This is an incredibly easy argument to dispel. Johansson is a titan of industry. Her industry happens to be acting. In a world with millions of actors, Johansson has risen to the top. Just like any CEO, she should command what the market will bear. She negotiated a deal based on her value, and she’s entitled to it.
ARGUMENT #2: BECAUSE OF COVID, THE STUDIO HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO MOVE THE FILM TO ITS STREAMING SERVICE.
Hey, Disney’s not alone on this one. Warner Bros. did the same thing when it made its entire 2021 slate available on HBO Max.
There are two big differences here. Warner Bros. made that announcement in December when COVID cases were spiking and there were no approved vaccines. On top of that, the studio didn’t cherry-pick titles. They committed to the whole slate. Further, Warner Bros. confirmed that this was not applicable to 2022 films. It had an end date.
Disney, on the other hand, announced that WIDOW and CRUELLA were going to Disney+ in late March. By then, several vaccines had been approved, cases had dropped dramatically from the winter surge, and theaters were reopening. In fact, according to Comscore, more than half of the U.S. theaters had reopened by the time of the Disney announcement. It was reasonable to think that the end of the pandemic was in sight.
Now, here’s the most bothersome part of this. In its response to Johansson, Disney went on to say that “the lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It seems a bit disingenuous for the studio to say that Johansson had a disregard for the pandemic. If anything, the studio used the pandemic to justify moving its biggest tentpole to Disney+ in an effort to juice subscriber numbers. All at the expense of theatrical.
Need we say more?