Black Widow has caused a lot of headaches for Disney and Marvel Studios. Pre-release there were several substantial delays due to COVID, meaning it arrived more than a year late. Then, in the wake of the controversial simultaneous theatrical and VOD release, star Scarlett Johansson hit them with a surprise lawsuit that could cost them tens of millions of dollars.
At the root of it is Johansson’s back-end deal in relation to the final box office haul, which she argues was drastically impacted by the home release. Disney hit back, saying that not only does Johansson’s contract fail to specify an exclusive theatrical release but that the disappointing box office was down to the pandemic rather than the Disney Plus release.
They’re now trying to force Johansson’s lawyers into arbitration behind closed doors, saying Johansson had already agreed to arbitrate all claims “arising out of, in connection with, or relating to” her Marvel work.
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This is an attempt to nullify one of the most potent weapons in Johansson’s legal arsenal. Her lawyers know that Disney doesn’t want a trial in which confidential financial information about Disney Plus is revealed to the public, along with other contractual details they’d prefer to remain under wraps.
Johansson attorney John Berlinski hit back at Disney’s moves to take the case out of the public eye, saying:
“After initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in a confidential arbitration. Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public? Because it knows that Marvel’s promises to give ‘Black Widow’ a typical theatrical release ‘like its other films’ had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn’t cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney Plus subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened — and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it.”
I’m betting this is brinkmanship and the case will indeed be settled behind closed doors, whether that’s through arbitration or simply Disney making an offer to Johansson to make this go away. Whatever happens next, don’t expect to see Johansson back in the MCU again, as this is some fairly strong bridge-burning with the House of Mouse on her part.
Black Widow is now streaming on most streaming video platforms.