Disney CEO Defends Studio Against Scarlett Johansson Lawsuit

By Michileen Martin | 3 weeks ago

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We haven’t heard much from the Disney side of the company’s dispute with its former star Scarlett Johansson. That changed yesterday morning when Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke at a virtual conference.

According to Deadline, Chapek was part of a virtual Q&A session for the Goldman Sachs’ 30th annual Communacopia Conference when he was asked about changes in the ways Hollywood talent are being compensated. The Disney CEO never said Scarlett Johansson’s name, but it was clear the news of her July lawsuit filing against Disney had a lot to do not only with Chapek’s answer, but that the legal battle was likely the inspiration for the question.

Along with some words regarding Disney’s history of “symbiotic and cooperative” relationships with its talent, Chapek pointed out that the deals that were hammered out with stars like Scarlett Johansson for Black Widow were made “three or four years ago,” before the COVID-19 pandemic changed things so drastically. the result, said Chapek, is that right now Disney finds itself “putting a square peg in a round hole.” While the CEO didn’t mention specifics, he did say Disney planned to adapt to the times when it came to any upcoming deals with its talent.

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Scarlett Johansson sued Disney in July for breach of contract over the release of Black Widow. As reported by Variety, Johansson’s suit said her contract with Disney came with a $50 million bonus dependent on ticket sales, and that the simultaneous Disney+ premiere release depressed those ticket sales and robbed her of the bonus. The actress’ lawyers released copies of emails between Johansson’s management and Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi, which showed Galluzzi promising a theatrical-only release with the stipulation that “should the plan change” they would need to come back to the negotiation table.

One big question that remains unanswered in the wake of Chapek’s comments is why — if Scarlett Johansson’s allegations are true — Disney didn’t make a new deal with the actress once it became clear the arrangement they made before the pandemic wouldn’t fit the realities of 2021. Chapek characterizes Disney as a victim of circumstance, while Johansson claims the studio had more than enough opportunity to adapt to the circumstance, but chose to just pocket her share instead.

While for the moment neither Chapek nor Disney seems to be giving any specifics about how they intend to adapt to a changed marketplace, it seems like they should start naming some specifics pretty soon. One of the results of Scarlett Johansson’s legal battle is that talent is already walking away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The same Russo brothers behind the last two Captain America and Avengers films were reportedly lured back to Marvel for a Secret Wars project, but gave a resounding “no thanks” when they didn’t like the answers they received about day-and-date releases.

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With the runaway success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Disney and Marvel apparently feel a lot more confident about theatrical only releases. While it hasn’t been confirmed, the next big MCU blockbuster — The Eternals — will reportedly (per ScreenRant) likewise release only in theaters. Should that be the case, it may be that — for the time being — Disney will get to sidestep the issues that precipitated Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit.