When the news first broke that Scarlett Johansson was suing Disney for breach of contract after the terms of her Black Widow deal weren’t updated to reflect the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster being sent to streaming the same day it hit theaters, fingers of blame were understandably being pointed in the direction of newly-installed CEO Bob Chapek.
You can see why; under his predecessor Bob Iger, the Mouse House had ascended to new critical and commercial heights, driven by the acquisition of several major brands including Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm, and by all accounts it was a great place to work, with Kevin Feige boasting a great relationship with his boss and an even better one with the talent in his employ.
Not long after Chapek officially assumed the reins, an A-list star who’d worked with Marvel for a decade filed a lawsuit, something many analysts are adamant would never have happened on Iger’s watch. At the Goldman Sachs’ 30th annual Communacopia Conference via Deadline, the CEO addressed the situation publicly.
“Disney has had a long history of having very symbiotic and cooperative deals with the talent and we will continue to. Certainly the world is changing, and the talent deals going forward will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing. Remember, those films were made three or four years ago; those deals were cut three or four years ago.
Then they get launched in the middle of a global pandemic where that pandemic itself is accelerating a second dynamic, which is this changing consumer behavior. So we’re sort of putting a square peg in a round hole right now where we’ve got a deal conceived under a certain set of conditions, that actually results in a movie that is being released in a completely different set of conditions. So there’s a bit of rest going on right now.
Ultimately, we’ll think about that as we do our future talent deals and plan for that and make sure that’s incorporated. But right now we have this sort of middle position, where we’re trying to do right by the talent, I think the talent is trying to do right by us, and we’re just figuring out our way to bridge the gap. Ultimately we believe our talent is our most important asset, and we’ll continue to believe that, and as we always have, we’ll compensate them fairly per the terms of the contract that they agreed to us with.”
While Chapek obviously didn’t name names, it’s obvious what he’s referring to. If talent is the most important asset at Disney’s disposal, then why did the legal team criticize Johansson’s move as a PR stunt? And why did the lawyers make a point of releasing a statement effectively calling her greedy? It’s a thorny situation, and even though the Black Widow battle between the two parties looks to be getting settled out of court, it’s far from over.