By Lori Perkins
We’ve all been a little distracted this past year and half, but most of us were eagerly awaiting the theatrical release of a Marvel movie, specifically Black Widow, which female comic book fans felt was already nearly a decade past-due (because every other male Avenger had their own movie, some more than one). So the on-again/off-again release date dance that Disney performed with Black Widow during the pandemic was frustrating for viewers—little did we know how insane the behind-the-scenes negotiations were with the lead, Scarlett Johansson, who got married to SNL”s Colin Jost during the pandemic, and just revealed that she is pregnant.
Turns out one of the reasons why Disney was delaying the film’s release was so they could figure out how to make the most money during a time when theatrical release was almost nil. As we know, they released the film on August 9, with simultaneous streaming on Disney+ (charging $30 for a download), but (and here’s the kicker) payments from streaming were never part of the original contract, so Johansson does not earn anything from those viewings, which were at least half of the revenue from the film.
Now, avid movie fans thought it was a little odd that Johansson didn’t go to any of the premieres, and only did zoom promotion for the film, and assumed that it was because she was pregnant (which she is – CONGRATS!!!), but now we know the real reason why. She was preparing to sue Disney for breach of contact claiming that putting the film on Disney + caused her to lose out on considerable bonuses. Disney struck back, saying the lawsuit showed “callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” They added, “there is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” also stating that the Black Widow release on Disney+ “significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation.”
A day later three women’s organizations in the film industry banned together to accuse Disney of sexist rhetoric on this subject. Women in Film, Los Angeles, ReFrame and Time’s Up have issued a joint statement calling Disney’s characterization of Scarlett Johansson a “gendered character attack.” Their joint statement reads, “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. 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.”
In the #MeToo/Times Up era, Disney may find that a powerful actress is a bigger foe than they ever imagined.