Disney claimed that Johansson’s lawsuit was “callous,” and refused to consider the realities of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Defending his company against Scarlett Johansson’s recent lawsuit alleging breach of contract, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the contours of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced the entertainment industry to release certain movies in both theaters and across streaming platforms.
As LegalReader reported earlier this month, Johansson sued Disney after the company announced that it would allow a simultaneous release of ‘Black Widow’ in theaters and on Disney+.
According to Johansson, her contract with Marvel stipulated that the bulk of her proceeds would be derived from ticket sales—meaning that the film’s release on Disney+ could deprive her of significant income.
In her complaint, Johansson alleged that Disney was pushing a transparent strategy: manipulating the pandemic to push viewers towards its Disney+ subscription service.
“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,” Johansson’s lawsuit states.
However, Chapek suggested that few other actors and actresses have complained, saying that Disney has “entered into hundreds of talent arrangements,” most of which “have gone very smoothly.”
Furthermore, Chapek said that COVID-19 forced the company’s hand.
“These films were conceived during a time when […] we certainly didn’t know about COVID,” Chapek said. “Just like what we’ve done many times before, we’ve found ways to fairly compensate our talent that, no matter what, everyone feels satisfied.”
The Hollywood Reporter observes that several other highly-anticipated Disney productions had releases shared between Disney+ and traditional cinemas, including ‘Cruella,’ ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ and ‘Jungle Cruise.’
Chapek says that Disney has tried to remain “flexible,” and has made decisions on how to release productions on a film-by-film basis.
“Both [Disney Chairman and former CEO] Bob Iger and I determined that this was the right strategy,” Chapek said. “And, just to reiterate, distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis. We will continue to utilize all options going forward.”
And, in its response to Johansson’s lawsuit, Disney attorneys voiced their belief that the actress’s claims lack merit.
“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Disney wrote in court documents. “Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”
“Obviously,” Chapek added in a later statement, “this world has been disrupted by COVID and we are all reacting to a very fluid situation.”