Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe can tie up the final last strings of Black Widow's (Scarlett Johansson) storyline within the superhero universe, it first has to deal with the new legal trouble surrounding the character's solo film. Johansson is suing Disney over its distribution of the summer blockbuster, claiming that the media conglomerate breached their contract.
Released earlier this month, Black Widow sees Johansson in her last turn as former KGB agent turned Avenger Natasha Romanoff; the MCU film, set right before the devastation of Avengers: Infinity War, followed Natasha's journey to reconciling the trauma of her painful past as a Widow. Highly anticipated and long overdue — a mix of the MCU's decision to put the project off and its repeated postponement due to the global pandemic — Disney finally released Black Widow in theaters and on its exclusive streaming platform Disney+. The only problem with this distribution plan? It allegedly wasn't supposed to happen that way.
The pandemic hit Hollywood hard, forcing theaters across the globe to shut down and pushing back major titles in hopes that it would soon be safe enough for moviegoers to see films in person. After more than a year of delays and readjustments, Disney and the rest of the industry found a solution to their concerns, making the pivot to exclusive premieres for premium subscribers on their streaming platforms.
Johansson's suit against Disney claims that the multi-million dollar contract she signed with Disney Marvel Entertainment specified that Black Widow would have an exclusive theater release before later being released on Disney+. She also alleges in the suit that a significant amount of her salary would be dependent on the box office numbers for the project. As such, Disney's decision to release the film in theaters and on the streaming platform potentially impacted the potential in-person viewership numbers and, subsequently, her paycheck. (A person on her team claims that the dual release cost Johansson a whopping $50 million.)
The suit is an escalation for Johansson and her legal counsel, who reportedly attempted to revisit the concept of a dual release for Black Widow in the past. When Disney failed to respond to the renegotiation attempts, the actress moved forward with legal action.
“Why would Disney forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts by releasing the Picture in theatres at a time when it knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover?” reads the complaint. “On information and belief, the decision to do so was made at least in part because Disney saw the opportunity to promote its flagship subscription service using the Picture and Ms. Johansson, thereby attracting new paying monthly subscribers, retaining existing ones, and establishing Disney+ as a must-have service in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”
Disney responded to the lawsuit later that day in a statement saying the actress has received $20 million from the project so far. To Deadline, a Disney spokesperson also called Johansson's suit "especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard" for the pandemic. Johansson has not yet responded to the statement. Refinery29 has reached out to her reps for comment.
This lawsuit puts into question the future of media conglomerates issuing both streaming and theater releases. Black Widow isn't the first Disney film to have a dual release; earlier this year, Emma Stone's Cruella was also released on Disney+ and in theaters on the same day. We're also quickly approaching the next phase of the MCU, mostly composed of blockbuster films like Spider-Man: No Way Home, Eternals, and Shang-Chi: Legend of the 10 Rings. It sounds like there's more to discuss when it comes to media conglomerates looking out for their viewers, their talent, and their pockets.