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Disney fires back against Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow lawsuit

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Disney wants to settle the matter privately — Johansson’s lawyers do not

Disney

Disney has filed a motion to have Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against the company moved to private arbitration, the latest in the ongoing saga of her complaint against the company over Black Widow’s streaming release.

Disney’s lawyers filed the motion Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court on the grounds that Periwinkle Entertainment, which negotiated her deal, agreed that any claims related to her role in the Marvel film would be handled in confidential arbitration. But the motion also took several swipes at Johansson’s complaint that argued Marvel, compelled by its parent company Disney, breached an agreement when Black Widow debuted on Disney Plus through Premier Access the same day that it premiered in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter earlier reported the motion.

Johansson’s complaint argued that the film’s hybrid release cut into her potential earnings, as a simultaneous streaming release hampered the film’s box office permanence and therefore impacted her bonuses. At issue is whether the film should have debuted as a theatrical exclusive. But according to Disney’s motion, Periwinkle’s contract with Marvel “does not mandate theatrical distribution — let alone require that any such distribution be exclusive.”

Furthermore, the motion states, the contract stated that any theatrical obligations would be met with showings on “no less than 1,500 screens.” The motion stated the film in fact debuted on more than 9,600 scenes in the US and 30,000-plus screens worldwide. Additionally, Disney’s lawyers also took issue with Johansson’s claim that she’d lost earnings under the hybrid release model — though it’s still unclear what specifically was promised.

Echoing comments made by Disney boss Bob Chapek during the company’s most recent earnings call, the motion stated that the “hybrid release pattern was the best thing” for Black Widow as well as everyone attached to it.

Disney also provided updated figures on Black Window’s performance, showing that it’s continued to bring in big figures at both the box office and through early access rentals. As of August 15th, Black Widow has raked in more than $367 million in box office receipts worldwide and more than $125 million in streaming and download receipts, the motion stated, offering seldom-shared figures about the success of a hybrid release in both theaters as well as on a streaming service itself. Accounting for the $55 million the film pulled in on Premier Access and the $80 million in domestic box office receipts during its opening weekend, Black Widow’s numbers surpassed the opening weekend figures of other Marvel films released pre-pandemic, the company argued, including Ant-Man and 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. The motion stated Periwinkle had yet to respond. Disney also reiterated its previous position that the complaint had “no merit.”

Johansson’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment. However, in a statement cited by The Hollywood Reporter, her attorney John Berlinski said that Disney “knows that Marvel’s promises to give Black Widow a typical theatrical release ‘like its other films’ had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn’t cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney+ subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened – and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it.”

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.

A number of organizations in the entertainment industry — including Women in Film, ReFrame, and Time’s Up — have criticized Disney’s response to the lawsuit, saying the “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.” Last week, fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe star Elizabeth Olsen also spoke out in support of Johansson in an interview with Vanity Fair.

“I think she’s so tough and literally when I read that I was like, ‘good for you Scarlett,’” Olsen said.