The pandemic, and particularly the lockdowns, have caused a seemingly never-ending list of problems for individuals, companies, and industries. One of the industries that have seen the biggest change in operations has been the entertainment industry. Movies have specifically seen total chaos, with films intended for theaters shifted entirely to streaming platforms, while others have seen a hybrid approach. Either way, many of these releases have violated the contracts of people involved, and studios are seeing lawsuits over these violations.
The most recent actor to take on the studios is Scarlett Johansson. Her complaint is over the release of her latest Marvel film Black Widow. The movie was initially intended for a traditional theatrical release, and her contract was negotiated under those conditions. However, with all of the chaos in the industry, Disney moved it to a hybrid release - coming out in theaters and Disney+ at the same time. However, her pay was based almost entirely on the theatrical revenue of the film, which has been significantly lessened because of the hybrid release approach, which was not agreed to as part of the contract.
Johansson's lawsuit alleges that, because of the simultaneous release in theaters and streaming, she will be losing out on millions of dollars that she believes Disney owes her for her work. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number could be as high as $50 million. While she mostly has the law on her side, Disney is taking a different approach to addressing the situation. Rather than addressing the concerns raised in the suit, the company has taken to attacking her for even bringing the suit - essentially calling her selfish.
The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it is true that things had to change because of the lockdowns, the law does not change just because of a disease. If two entities, in this case, Johansson and Disney, come to an agreement on certain terms, and one entity changes the fundamental basis on which the meeting of the minds was reached, that does sound like a breach of contract.
As the wide theatrical release, which is stipulated in the contract, was undermined by the same-day release on Disney+, it seems like a natural place where both sides could come to an agreement is on the revenue generated by the extra charge that Disney adds for same-day releases. In the case of Black Widow, the company is bringing in $30 per account, which would normally have been theatrical revenue. Perhaps, if Disney were to offer to extend the terms of her contract to include the $30 upcharge on Disney+, the two sides could come to an agreement.
Of course, as Disney points out, this is a complicated situation. In many parts of the world, theaters are still shuttered completely. Other parts of the world have limited access to theaters, meaning that a wide release would have been a challenge, and a successful theatrical release was essentially impossible. Rather than delay the film again (which Disney has done several times), a hybrid approach seemed the best way to get the film out of inventory. But contracts are contracts, and this will not be the last we hear of an actor filing a breach of contract over hybrid film releases.