Scarlett Johansson, who plays the titular superhero in Black Widow, filed a lawsuit against Disney on Thursday alleging a contract breach. She claimed in her suit that Disney did not honour its commitment to release the film only in theatres and simultaneously made it available on the streaming platform Disney+.
The suit said that Scarlett’s paycheque was tied to the box office performance of Black Widow and she suffered financial losses due to its dual release. “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,” it said, according to The Wall Street Journal. Variety quoted sources close to Scarlett telling WSJ that the simultaneous online release of Black Widow resulted in losses of $50 million (around ₹371 crore).
However, a spokesperson for Disney called Scarlett’s allegations of being potentially bilked out of a huge sum of money lacking in merit and ‘especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic’. The representative said that the company ‘fully complied’ with her contract and that the streaming release of Black Widow ‘significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date’.
Scarlett’s lawsuit comes at a time when theatres are still struggling to survive the pandemic. Most studios are choosing to either delay films or opting for a streaming release in an effort to recoup some profits.
Black Widow, originally set to release in May 2020, debuted in theatres and on Disney+ (for an additional fee) in the US and several other countries on July 9.
“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,” Scarlett’s lawyer John Berlinski told CNN Business. “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,” he added.
Meanwhile, Black Widow is yet to release in India but is already available on pirate sites in high-definition. According to reports, it is expected to arrive on Disney+ Hotstar in October.