Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit against Disney is still ongoing. However, even if it has yet to find a resolution, the lawsuit has already forced Disney to make significant changes. In particular, Disney has decided to amend its contract policy for actors going forward, as revealed by Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
Is Disney admitting defeat by making changes to actor contracts?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected several industries across the world. In movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was forced to vacate its entire 2020 slate as the pandemic was at its peak. Then, once Disney did decide to roll out its slate of MCU movies, starting with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, threading relatively new ground opened it to a lawsuit that is still ongoing today.
Disney's streaming service, Disney+, has a premium tier known as Premier Access, which saw the release of Mulan, Jungle Cruise, and the aforementioned, Black Widow.
Despite seeing several movies release on the platform via Premier Access, only Black Widow caused quite a bit of a stir. Ironically, Black Widow is the highest-grossing movie of 2021 so far after pulling in $183 million in the domestic box office and $377 million worldwide. But, despite its success, Johansson's lawsuit argues that the film's box office take could have been much larger and her payday more lucrative.
At the moment, Disney is working hard to prevent the case from going to trial. Meanwhile, Johansson's team recently revealed that they had asked Disney for $100 million. This was before Disney decided to release Black Widow on Premier Access and in theaters.
According to Deadline, Chapek revealed at the Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference that "talent deals going forward will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing." This, coupled with Disney's decision to release the rest of its movies this 2021 in theaters suggests that it is admitting defeat without outright saying that Johansson's lawsuit is in the right.
We all can agree that there's no wrong or right way to deal with how a studio releases movies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The risk of a low box office take following a theater-exclusive release looms over the heads of studio executives. At the same time, releasing a movie on both a streaming platform and in theaters opens it up to a low box office take as well. However, Disney appears to be the only one to be dealing with this problem, perhaps because of its decision not to do something about it.
It's worth noting that Warner Bros. also found itself in a similarly precarious position earlier this year. The decision to release all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day came with a lot of criticism. Yet, the home of the DCEU has avoided controversy for the most part. Part of the reason is that it renegotiated deals with its biggest stars. As the highest-paid Hollywood actress in 2018 and 2019, Johansson certainly deserved her fairly sizable slice of the pie.
Coincidentally, Chapek's statement comes just days after Jamie Lee Curtis expressed her support for Johansson's lawsuit.
It will be interesting to see what will come off Johansson's lawsuit. After all, Disney's CEO has all but confirmed that the studio did the Black Widow actress wrong. But, one thing is for certain - Johansson's exit from the MCU has made a lasting impact on all parties involved.