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Disney lawyer calls Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit an ‘orchestrated PR campaign’

Disney's lawyer Daniel Petrocelli has commented on the lawsuit filed against the studio by Scarlett Johansson. The lawsuit is a stand against Disney's call to release Black Widow on Disney+ alongside the theatres.

By: Entertainment Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 8, 2021 10:21:22 am
scarlett johanssonScarlett Johansson's Black Widow was released simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+’s streaming service, Premier Access, in the US. (Photo: Marvel Studios/Instagram)

The legal battle between Disney and Scarlett Johansson continues to make headlines. After calling Johansson’s move to sue Disney as “sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Disney’s attorney Daniel Petrocelli called the actor’s lawsuit a “highly orchestrated PR campaign.”

“It is obvious that this is a highly orchestrated PR campaign to achieve an outcome that is not obtainable in the lawsuit,” Petrocelli told Vareity. “No amount of public pressure can change or obscure the explicit contractual commitments. The written contract is clear as a bell,” he added.

As per The Wall Street Journal, Johansson’s lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on July 29. The Black Widow actor said that her agreement with Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment involved a guarantee that the film will exclusively be released in theatres and her salary was based on the box-office performance of the movie.

The suit said, “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.” The studio released the film on their streaming service along with the theatres. The move, as per Johansson’s view, limited the movie’s prospects at the box office, and thus denied her the chance to achieve those pre-determined bonuses.

However, Petrocelli defended Disney’s move to release the film on the streaming platform and called it a boost for Johansson because that revenue is factored into the box-office tally for the purpose of computing bonuses. Disney Premier Access charged $29.99 for Black Widow. Disney shares some portion of that revenue with their distribution partners, but the studio’s share will be factored into bonus calculations for actors, he said.

“We treated Disney Premier Access (revenue) like box office for the purposes of the bonus requirements in the contract. That only enhanced the economics for Ms. Johansson,” Petrocelli said.

Black Widow was the first time Disney felt comfortable releasing streaming numbers. Apparently, the media giant earned 60 million dollars from Black Widow’s Disney+ Premier Access release alone in the opening weekend. This was in addition to 158 million dollar box office, by far the best for a pandemic release. Premier Access may have worked big time for the House of Mouse, but Scarlett Johansson clearly feels it was unfair to her.

In Variety’s report, Petrocelli further criticized Johansson’s litigation as short-sighted given the extraordinary conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You had an unexpected COVID crisis and the studio was trying to accommodate millions of fans who are nervous and not comfortable going inside theaters,” Petrocelli said. “All studios have had to adjust,” he added addressing how Disney had no choice but to look for innovative solutions to distribute the movie as it had invested tens of millions of dollars in Black Widow.

On a concluding note, Petrocelli said this legal battle of Disney against Johansson “will take time to resolve” and predicted that in the near future talent deals will “become much more specific about the requirements for any contingent compensation.”

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