Scarlett Johansson Forgets Pandemic, Sues Disney

Rebecca Kaplan

Rebecca Kaplan (she/he) has a JD and an MS in Criminology but believes comics do more good than law. She's the Features Editor at Prism Comics and contributes to the Eisner-winning PanelxPanel. You can find his writing at MovieWeb, Geek Girl Authority, StarTrek.com, Comics Bookcase, and MarvelBlog, and in Double Challenge: Being LGBTQ and a Minority, which she co-authored with her wife, Avery Kaplan. Find her at @RebeccaKaplan6 or rebeccaokaplan@gmail.com.

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4 Responses

  1. GD says:

    What isn’t really being addressed here is Disney’s responsibility to the theater owners and those cast/crew that rely directly on theatrical release revenue for income. Without income, theaters close, and they are all hanging by a thread as it is.

    Further, in order to entice the kind of talent, and swagger, that certain cast & crew can bring to a film, contracts routinely tie in theatrical release revenue to the income they will pay to the worker(s). This keeps up-front production costs much lower, which helps the production company be able to actually complete and release the film.

    It’s not like Johansson is trying to get compensation that wasn’t agreed upon. She’s simply asking for compensation she negotiated, up front, and is making Disney responsible for being a greedy company that is trying to go back on their word. Disney is a cash-fat giant beast that had the ability to reach out to her, and others, and renegotiate terms in light of the pandemic. Instead, they released the movie on their own platform, which only financially benefits Disney – as they feel that they don’t have to pay theaters, Johansson, or anyone else they had negotiated ticket sale income with.

    I work in a completely different industry, which also has a salary + commissions model. The salary is modest, it’s the commission that brought me to the job and what drives me to perform at my best. It’s the carrot. It’s what pays my bills. I would sue the hell out of my employer if they did anything like this, and I’d win. Though the scale is different, the scenario is the same.

    • I’ll politely disagree that Disney has any responsibility to theater owners. NATO is a poorly run organization that has refused to acknowledge the writing on the wall since about 2007. Movie theaters are by nature middlemen operations. They have no product of their own. Disney creates a product and has the right to distribute it through whatever method they see fit to maximize profit.
      As for Johansson in particular, I agree that she does want the compensation that she expected. The catch is that her representation didn’t protect her well with contracts, which is their literal job. They get paid a percentage of the fees for that purpose. So, she has a better case against them than she does against Disney, at least if an arbitrator/judge holds narrow interpretations of contracts.
      Johansson wants the spirit of the contract while Disney holds to the actual language, which rewards for box office receipts that aren’t coming. A judge who favors the spirit of the law will see things as you do, believing that she was right to honor the contract. I can only speculate what would happen in a protracted legal battle, as this issue exists outside the realm of Hollywood. Many companies will have their feet held to the fire over pandemic actions. Disney at least has a contract showing it did what it promised it would, which is give Black Widow a wide theatrical release.
      Personally, I feel that Disney should have worked out compensation with Johansson to head off this issue, which it sounds like they tried, and she rejected. Nobody can say for sure what the details of that negotiation are, just that it obviously turned acrimonious quickly. The two parties had announced another joint project just five weeks before this bitter divorce occurred.
      So, I have no sympathy for delusional movie theater exhibitors, but I do believe Johansson, like several other stars of pandemic movies, caught a bad break.

  2. Nynlisa says:

    Disney has a long standing reputation for not honoring their contracts. The author of the novel version of Star Wars: A New Hope and of Alien, Alan Dean Foster, has cancer and they have stopped paying his royalties on a number of book contracts they purchased along with the holdings of Lucas Films and Fox. They are literally stealing the money from him that would pay for his cancer treatments!!! So, of course they would do the same thing to others, like Scarlett Johansen. They put out enough movies about the underdog beating the bully when they are nothing but the bully themselves.

    • Disney has actually made good with Foster, but your point stands anyway. The company is currently working through a backlog of authors that are in need of compensation for prior works. The Johansson situation isn’t quite the same, as Disney has by all accounts offered her a make-good. She just didn’t feel it was enough. Neither party is 100% right or wrong here. Unfortunately for Johansson, it’ll be difficult to win a prolonged court battle with Disney.

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