Advocacy organizations Women In Film, ReFrame, and Time's Up have slammed Disney's response to Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit over Black Widow, accusing the studio of a "gendered character attack" on the Marvel star.
Johansson filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. on Thursday, alleging that the studio breached her contract by releasing Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time. The lawsuit argues that Disney tried to use the film to grow its subscriber base at the expense of her earnings, which the suit claims would have been "based largely on box office receipts."
In response, a Disney spokesperson said there is "no merit whatsoever" to Johansson's complaint, adding, "This lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson's contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date."
Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff in 'Black Widow'
In a joint statement on Friday, Women In Film, ReFrame, and Time's Up criticized Disney's response, arguing that the studio "attempt[ed] to characterize Johansson as insensitive or selfish for defending her contractual business rights."
"While we take no position on the business issues in the litigation between Scarlett Johansson and the Walt Disney Company, we stand firmly against Disney's recent statement which attempts to characterize Johansson as insensitive or selfish for defending her contractual business rights," the statement reads. "This gendered character attack has no place in a business dispute and contributes to an environment in which women and girls are perceived as less able than men to protect their own interests without facing ad hominem criticism."
Johansson's agent Bryan Lourd, the co-chairman of Hollywood powerhouse CAA, also criticized Disney on Friday in an extraordinary public statement. "They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global COVID pandemic, in an attempt to make her appear to be someone they and I know she isn't," said Lourd, who also represents such A-listers as Brad Pitt and Johansson's Marvel costar Chris Hemsworth. "Scarlett has been Disney's partner on nine movies, which have earned Disney and its shareholders billions. The company included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of."
Lourd's statement highlights just how unusual this type of dispute is for Hollywood. It is incredibly rare for a major star like Johansson and a powerful studio like Disney to duke it out in the public sphere, in an industry that typically keeps its financial dealings closely guarded. In December, The New York Times reported that Warner Bros. paid Wonder Woman 1984 star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins $10 million each to secure their approval for the film's simultaneous release in theaters and on HBO Max, rather than risk an open dispute with the talent.
"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 lawyer John Berlinski said in a statement provided to EW on Thursday. "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."
Black Widow's release faced multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the film ultimately debuting this summer in theaters and through Disney+'s paid premier access service for an additional $30. The film grossed $315 million worldwide in its first three weekends, according to Disney, with $60 million of its opening weekend earnings coming from Disney+. (The studio has not reported the film's Disney+ earnings beyond its opening weekend.) Insiders told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news of Johansson's lawsuit, that the actress stood to gain as much as $50 million from a traditional theatrical release of Black Widow.