Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow Image Credit: Marvel Studios

The fight between Disney and Scarlett Johansson is getting messy, even by Hollywood standards.

ScarJo’s agent, Bryan Lourd — one of the industry’s most powerful figures — weighed in on the fight between his client and the entertainment studio Friday, lambasting Disney for “weaponizing” her success against her. Johansson sued Disney in Los Angeles on Thursday over its release strategy for ‘Black Widow’, arguing the Burbank-based studio breached its contract by debuting the big-budget Marvel Studios superhero movie on Disney+ and in theatres at the same time, hurting her compensation that largely came from ticket sales.

“They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global COVID pandemic, in an attempt to make her appear to be someone they and I know she isn’t,” Lourd, co-chairman of Creative Artists Agency said in a statement. Lourd represents some of Hollywood’s biggest stars besides Johansson, such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Disney did not respond to requests for comment on Lourd’s statement.

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Scarlett Johnasson has filed a lawsuit against Disney over the studio's 'Black Widow' release strategy Image Credit: AP

Lourd’s comment in this increasingly public battle is unprecedented for a world that keeps its dealings, in particular its money, behind heavy closed curtains. It is rare for an actor to take a powerful studio like Disney to task and for the studio in turn to make public how much it pays its stars. At stake for the star is tens of millions of dollars for what could have been one of the biggest films of her career. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, from which the ‘Black Widow’ storyline is sprung, is Hollywood’s biggest film franchise.

Disney responded to Johansson’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, saying it was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The studio said the lawsuit was without merit, adding she had already earned $20 million.

“Scarlett has been Disney’s partner on nine movies, which have earned Disney and its shareholders billions,” Lourd said. “The company included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of.”

The $20 million was what Johansson’s deal guaranteed her and she could have expected to earn at least $50 million from a traditional theatrical release based on how past Marvel movies have performed, said a person familiar with the terms of her contract who was not authorised to speak publicly.

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A still from 'Black Widow' Image Credit: Marvel Studios

“They have very deliberately moved the revenue stream and profits to the Disney+ side of the company, leaving artistic and financial partners out of their new equation,” Lourd said. “Disney’s direct attack on her character and all else they implied is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades.”

The activist groups Women in Film, ReFrame and Time’s Up chimed in defending the actress. “We stand firmly against Disney’s recent statement which attempts to characterize Johansson as insensitive or selfish for defending her contractual business rights,” the groups said in an emailed joint statement. “This gendered character attack has no place in a business dispute and contributes to an environment in which women and girls are perceived as less able than men to protect their own interests without facing ad hominem criticism.”

The expectation among some in Hollywood is that the fight will embolden other creatives to fight for better terms.

Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart in 'Olympus Has Fallen' Image Credit: Millennium Films Inc.

Gerard Butler launched a suit against the producers of the film ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, including L.A.-based Millennium Films Inc., alleging fraud and breach of contract, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday. The actor alleged the producers, whose other movies include ‘The Expendables’ series, refused to pay any of the profits from the movie promised to the star, according to the complaint. He claims the producers have tried to show that no monies were owed to Butler and is claiming damages in excess of $10 million. A spokesperson for Millennium was not available for comment.