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Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over Black Widow streaming release

Disney said there was "no merit" to the lawsuit, saying it had complied with her contract.

Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over Black Widow streaming release

Scarlett Johansson in a scene from "Black Widow." (Photo: Marvel Studios-Disney via AP)

Scarlett Johansson, star of the Marvel superhero movie Black Widow, sued the Walt Disney Co on Thursday (Jul 29), alleging that the company breached her contract when it offered the movie on streaming at the same time it played in theatres.

Disney said there was "no merit" to the lawsuit, saying it had complied with her contract. It added in a statement that the release of the movie on its streaming platform had "significantly enhanced her (Johansson's) ability to earn additional compensation on top of the US$20 million she has received to date”.

Johansson's complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, argued that the dual release strategy of Black Widow had reduced her compensation, which was based partly on box office receipts from what was supposed to be an exclusive run in cinemas.

Black Widow debuted on Jul 9 in theatres and for a US$30 charge (S$38.98 in Singapore) on the Disney+ streaming service. Disney has been testing the hybrid pattern for some films during the coronavirus pandemic as the company tried to boost its streaming service while many movie theatres around the world were closed.

Johansson's lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that Disney wanted to steer audiences toward Disney+, "where it could keep the revenues for itself while simultaneously growing the Disney+ subscriber base, a proven way to boost Disney's stock price".

"Second, Disney wanted to substantially devalue Ms Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself," the lawsuit said.

The suit seeks unspecified damages to be determined at trial.

The outcome could have broad ramifications in Hollywood as media companies try to build their streaming services by offering premium programming to lure subscribers.

The Disney statement said the lawsuit was "especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic".

Black Widow, the story of the Russian assassin turned Avenger, pulled in US$80 million at US and Canadian box offices over its debut weekend. The movie also generated US$60 million through Disney+ purchases, Disney said.

Johansson has played the character in nine Marvel films.

Other movie studios including AT&T Inc's Warner Bros have negotiated payments to actors and others involved in films that were originally planned for theatres only but also offered on streaming during the pandemic.


READ: Scarlett Johansson reveals why she needed to scrap an early version of Black Widow


Johansson's suit said her representatives approached Disney about resolving the issue but were "largely ignored".

The actress topped the Forbes magazine list of the world's highest-paid actress in 2018 and 2019. Johansson's pre-tax earnings totalled US$56 million from June 2018 to June 2019.

Disney also is offering a same-day streaming release starting on Jul 30 for Jungle Cruise, an action-adventure movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, for S$38.98. The film will be available to all Disney+ subscribers from Nov 12 at no additional cost.

(Source: Reuters)

Source: Reuters/sr