Disney wants the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit filed against them to move to arbitration — but her lawyer isn’t having it.
The company filed a motion in Los Angeles on Friday to move the lawsuit to a private arbitration in New York, according to multiple reports. Per the American Bar Association, arbitration is a “private process where disputing parties agree that one or several individuals can make a decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments.”
Last month, the Black Widow star sued Disney over the release of the Marvel movie, claiming the theatrical and Disney+ Premier release model was a breach of contract.
Per the latest motion obtained by Variety, attorney Daniel Petrocelli argued that Disney held up its obligation to give the film a “wide theatrical” release, but noted that nothing in her contract required the release to be exclusive to theaters.
Johansson’s attorney John Berlinski responded to Disney’s filing, claiming the company is “trying to hide its misconduct.”
“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,” Berlinski said in a statement given to multiple outlets. “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.”
ET confirmed in July that Johansson is suing Disney for intentional interference with contractual relations and for inducing breach of contract. She also demands a jury trial.
Johansson alleges in the docs, which were submitted to the Los Angeles Superior Court late last month, that the simultaneous release of Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ was a breach of contract. The actress claims in the docs that she agreed her compensation for starring in Black Widow would be largely based on box office receipts generated by the film, and agreed to a theatrical release exclusive to movie theaters in order to maximize her pay.
Johansson claims Disney violated its pledge by releasing Black Widow on Disney+ on July 9, 2021, the same day it was released in theaters.
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” a Walt Disney Company spokesperson said in a statement to ET. “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 Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”
Berlinski also released a statement to ET at the time, reading, “It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price — and that it’s hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so.”
“But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court,” the statement continued. “This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”
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Disney boss Bob Chapek later stood up for the company’s movie distribution model, reportedly speaking with investors and analysts during an earnings call, where he addressed Disney’s dual distribution plans, which involve releasing films in theaters and on Disney+ at or around the same time.
This model of release was reportedly one reason for Johansson’s lawsuit after Black Widow dropped off in earnings significantly following its debut. Chapek didn’t mention Johansson or Black Widow by name during the conference call, but reportedly explained, “We value flexibility in being able to make last-minute calls.”
He also said that during the studio’s initial plans to release films in theaters once more, they “didn’t anticipate the resurgence of COVID.”
Additionally earlier this month, Executive Chairman Endeavor Patrick Whitesell expressed that Disney would “protect artists” and align “studio’s interests with talent,” when announcing Emma Stone’s attachment to the Cruella sequel.
“While the media landscape has been disrupted in a meaningful way for all distributors, their creative partners cannot be left on the sidelines to carry a disproportionate amount of the downside without the potential for upside,” Whitesell told ET in a statement. “This agreement demonstrates that there can be an equitable path forward that protects artists and aligns studios’ interests with talent. We are proud to work alongside Emma and Disney, and appreciate the studio’s willingness to recognize her contributions as a creative partner. We are hopeful that this will open the door for more members of the creative community to participate in the success of new platforms.”