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Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over ‘Black Widow’

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Myles Udland, Brian Sozzi, and Julie Hyman break down Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney over how the company decided to release the ‘Black Widow’ film and how this lawsuit could affect the way Disney moves with its contracts and film releases moving forward.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney, and it has to do with how the company released Black Widow, the film of course, of which she is the star. It was released on theaters and on Disney+, and she's basically alleging that they are depriving her of additional income that she would have gotten had it been only released, exclusively released in theaters. She also said the company had promised her that it would only be released in theaters.

And Disney is firing back here with quite a spicy statement saying, "There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Miss Johansson's contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow and Disney+ has significantly enhanced" her ability to earn additional revenue, and she already has $20 million from the movie.

I don't know about you guys though. Rubs me a little bit the wrong way that they say, how dare you sue us during COVID?

MYLES UDLAND: Well, I mean, what were those conversations like before they went with this? I mean, oh boy that must have been some pretty unconstructive conversations between Scar Jo's representation and Disney executives. Because for her to go with a lawsuit and for Disney to come back and basically be like, you know, you don't care about people who died of COVID, it's like I mean that is, that is a bit strong. But--

JULIE HYMAN: More than it more than a bit strong.

MYLES UDLAND: But lawyers do lawyer things.

JULIE HYMAN: Effectively what she's saying is, Bob Chapek gets more money in his pocket if Disney+ gets more money and more subscribers at the expense of my money. I mean like-- I don't know.

BRIAN SOZZI: But it strikes, I think, at how the business has changed, how the pandemic has changed this business. Where you have Disney now, they're going to have to release, or they have released movies on Disney+ and in theaters. I mean the pandemic has fundamentally change how movies are done and distributed, and I would be wondering if you're a Disney investor if Scar Jo does win this, does it raise talent costs for Disney?

MYLES UDLAND: Well, so it--

BRIAN SOZZI: Because that could be a big risk to earnings, and not just for a year. I mean, that's just, that's a decade long earnings in that.

MYLES UDLAND: So this was the follow up Disney's story up, the first story from variety we saw on this yesterday. So Johansson's team believes that there's up to $50 million in lost bonuses that she could have earned based on box office, expected box office performance for a Marvel universe film in normal times. But that article went into, I think some important context here around how these deals are getting done, where you have stars, think of Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes, you're getting big up front payments to be involved with a Netflix or other studios.

And obviously all around deals have existed forever, but I think the studios, and Netflix shows how you can do the accounting in maybe a more favorable way, you give someone a ton of money but the points on the package, you know the Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld stuff that everyone became enamored with after those guys made hundreds of millions of on Seinfeld reruns. That feels like it's kind of going away. Right, like there's more it's-- You can amortize a one time cost to a star. You could give Scarlett Johansson $500 million, and you can just amortize the cost. But if you end up owing her $500 million because the box office, well that's, you know, that's cash out each time it comes up that she's owed a cut of the film if it is so successful. So on and so forth. So I mean, I think there's definitely to your point, Sozzi, a reorientation of that stuff.

JULIE HYMAN: There's definitely all of this angle to me--

MYLES UDLAND: These are big numbers. It's hard to get excited about these people.

JULIE HYMAN: Well to me, but, to me there's also a feminism angle to this, right? This is one of the only women in this Marvel franchise. One of the only prominent women. I mean yes, as somebody pointed out, there was a Captain Marvel movie, which also starred a woman, right? But she wasn't in many of the other Marvel movies. Yes, you could talk about "WandaVision" and tha-- but in other words, Scarlett Johansson, prominent role in these movies, hasn't gotten her own movie until now within this franchise. And so it's not just about how you pay talent it's about how you pay women in Hollywood in particular, and her coming to Disney and saying, you know, you have to sort of layer that on top of this story I think. All right. I guess that's we have to say about that.

MYLES UDLAND: Well, I, you know, I mean, and I go back to, we had a conversation on this point with Rich Greenfield a couple of weeks ago, and one of us asked him about the talent side of it. And Rich's view, and I think it's ultimately going to be right, it's talent will figure it out.

But this I think is, I think this lawsuit, this disagreement, shows that it's a pivot moment maybe. And there's certainly, as the whole industry, as the industry as they call it, transitions to a new model, there's going to be a lot of disagreements. And I think unfairness and clearly legal action as a result of that. But I think to, will such and such star work with such and such studio, well that stuff's been going on forever. And I think Rich, as an analyst in the industry, and I think many pretty much everyone agree with them, that stuff works out because you get paid. It's fine. In the end.

JULIE HYMAN: Right. Yes.

MYLES UDLAND: But Scar Jo today, did not get paid. Very unhappy about it. And you know, if I'm Warner Brothers I'm like, great I'll hire her for the next movie and give her a big bonus big. Signing bonus all kinds of stuff. Now, I have one of the biggest stars available. She doesn't like Disney anymore.

JULIE HYMAN: Yes, it can be seen as a competitive advantage for others.

MYLES UDLAND: Agent is like, this is great. Give me a call.