Disney wants to settle this matter privately; Johansson’s lawyers don’t agree.
Disney filed a motion for Scarlett Johansson to move her lawsuit against the company to private arbitration. This is the latest development in the ongoing case against the company regarding the Black Widow streaming release.
Disney’s lawyers filed the motion Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court because Periwinkle Entertainment, which negotiated her deal, agreed that any claims related to her role in the Marvel film would be handled in confidential arbitration. Johansson’s claim that Marvel was compelled to break an agreement by its parent company Disney when Black Widow premiered on Disney Plus through Premier Access on the same day it went into theaters was also a part of the motion. The Hollywood Reporter earlier reported the move.
Johansson complained that the film’s simultaneous release reduced her potential earnings. A simultaneous streaming release also hampered the film’s box office permanence, affecting her bonuses. The question is whether the film should have been released as theatrical exclusivity. Disney’s motion states that Periwinkle’s Marvel contract “doesn’t mandate theatrical distribution” and does not require exclusive distribution.
According to the motion, any theatrical obligations were to be fulfilled by showings on “no lower than 1,500 screens.” The film debuted on over 9,600 scenes in the US and on 30,000 screens worldwide. Johansson claimed she had lost earnings due to the hybrid release model, but it is still unclear what was promised.
Echoing the comments made by Disney boss Bob Chapek at the company’s latest earnings call, the motion said that the “hybrid-release pattern” was the best for Black Widow and everyone attached to it.
Disney also updated its figures regarding Black Window’s success, showing that the film continues to make big profits at the box office and through early access rentals. The motion said that Black Widow had earned more than $367m in worldwide box office receipts and more than $125m in streaming and download receipts. This is a rare statistic about the success of a hybrid release, which was available in both theaters and on a streaming service. According to the company, Black Widow’s opening weekend box office figures exceeded those of Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Disney’s lawyers revealed in the motion that it served Periwinkle a demand for private arbitration on August 10th, a little over a week after Johansson’s initial complaint was filed. Periwinkle was not yet responding to the motion. Disney reiterated its earlier position that the complaint was without merit.
Johansson’s lawyers were not available for comment immediately. In a statement that The Hollywood Reporter cited, John Berlinski, her attorney, stated that Disney “knows Marvel’s promises to Black Widow a typical theatrical production ‘like its other movies’ had nothing to do with guaranteeing Disney wouldn’t cannibalize the box office receipts to increase Disney+ subscriptions.” We are excited to present the overwhelming evidence to prove that this is what happened.
In response to the initial complaint in late July, Disney said there was “no merit whatsoever to this filing.” The company also characterized the suit as “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” adding that Johansson had earned $20 million to date.
Various entertainment industry organizations, including Women in Film and ReFrame, have criticized Disney’s response to the lawsuit. They claim that the “gendered attack has no place in a commercial dispute and contributes towards an environment in which men and women are perceived as less able to protect their interests without facing ad hoc criticism.” Elizabeth Olsen, a fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe star, also spoke out in support of Johansson in an interview with Vanity Fair last week.
Olsen stated, “I think she is so tough, and literally when I saw that, I was like, ‘good for you, Scarlett.'”