News & Opinion

Scarlett Johansson Suing Disney is a Good Thing

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 24 hours, you’ve heard the back and forth between Scarlett Johansson and Disney. Scarlett Johansson is threatening a lawsuit against Disney because the day-and-date release of Black Widow cost her money. Disney responded that they fulfilled their contract and the day-and-date release actually made Scarlett Johansson more money. Of course, the Internet was quick to say that day-and-date releases were now going to die because of the Scarlett Johansson suit. That’s an extremely short-sighted and wrong way to read this situation. No, in my opinion, Scarlett Johansson suing Disney is a good (even great) thing.

We Don’t Really Know What is Going On

If you aren’t an industry insider with intimate knowledge of this situation (and I certainly am not), then you don’t really know what is going on. There are so many factors and factions in play here. The reports are between Johansson and Disney, but there is the Actor’s Union, other actors, other studios, and many other people and entities that are invested in this situation.

Each of these stakeholders has a lot to lose or gain. It is in the best interest of Disney (and other studios) if they can somehow keep the streaming money to themselves while it is in the best interest of the actors to get a cut. Not only that, think about the Actor’s Union. Black Widow was one of the first big blockbuster movies (no offense Bloodshot) to see day-and-date release. Johansson is a huge star. Put the two together, and the situation is rife with it being used as a model for how things will work in the future.

This Isn’t About Black Widow, It Is About the Future

Black Widow was the most successful movie release since before the start of the pandemic. That’s just a fact. It did well at the theaters (even though the pandemic was still ongoing) and it did well streaming. Add that it is a Marvel movie and is headlined by Johansson, and there is a Simone Biles level of attention on this movie. Those that want to keep the status quo, want to tear the movie down. Those that want to see more day-and-date releases want to use it as the poster boy of what can be.

No matter what group you belong to, you want to exploit Black Widow and Johansson to prove your point. Johansson and those that represent her have a responsibility to make sure that all future actors have the ability to get their fair cut from movies they star in. Disney has a responsibility to make sure that they, and other studios, negotiate a deal so that they can continue to make money going forward.

This argument isn’t about Black Widow. It is about how movies will be distributed in the future. It is about how actors will be paid when their movies are streamed near or on the theatrical release date. And that’s why this argument is a good thing.

Scarlett Johansson Suing Disney is a Good Thing

Do you know what you don’t argue about? Things that aren’t a problem. When everyone agrees, there is no reason to argue. But there is an argument here. And it isn’t because Johansson and those that represent her are trying to “kill” streaming. Instead, they seem to be admitting that streaming day-and-date is a thing that will happen again. When it does, they want to have rules in place. Those rules? That’s what this suit is about.

Using Black Widow to try and force Disney (and by extension, other studios) to delineate rules, suggests that actors realize that streaming is here to stay. They are admitting that they may find themselves in this situation again and will need to know what to expect.

That’s why it is important that Disney and Johansson (and her representatives) hash this out. By setting the ground rules, actors and studios will know what the “Johansson” baseline is for day-and-date streaming release. If she ends up getting X%, then other actors and studios can use that as a negotiation starting point. If they work out another deal, that’s fine too. Other actors just need to know what to expect.

My Take

The fact is that Johansson’s contract for Black Widow was negotiated long before the pandemic. No one could have predicted that Black Widow would have been released day-and-date on Disney+ so no one would have thought to write that into her contract. If the lawsuit, the response, and the inevitable mudslinging all feel very political, it is because that’s exactly what it is.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Scarlett Johansson had almost nothing to do with this lawsuit. I believe this could all be the brainchild of the Actor’s Union. The media and Internet will be quick to demonize her, but the lawsuit is actually an important step to making day-and-date streaming a reality in the future. Without some sort of baseline, each studio and actor would be forced to start from scratch with each movie. Or until enough deals are made that some sort of average could be set.

However this situation plays out, Scarlett Johansson suing Disney is a good thing. It suggests that streaming may become more common in the future. And that’s exactly what I want.

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