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'Black Widow' Lawsuit is a Publicity Stunt, Disney Lawyer Claims

The lawsuit concerning Black Widow (2021) star Scarlett Johansson and Disney+ escalate as Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli states that the legal battle is a "PR stunt."

The longtime studio attorney opened up to Variety about his perception of the ongoing struggle between the actress and the studio. He claimed that the events are simply a "PR stunt." He said that Johansson's demands were beyond the details and agreements of her Black Widow contract.

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

The lawsuit stems from Johansson suing Disney due to their decision to release Black Widow both theatrically and through Disney+. It was said that the film was promised to have an exclusive theatrical release, as the claim was supported in an email exchange between the actress and Marvel in 2019. The dual-release backfired against the film's box office earnings. Johansson's income was somewhat reliant on the box office revenue and it was said that the actress lost potentially millions in compensation.

The argument was countered by Petrocelli by saying that Disney considered the $29.99 Disney+ Premier Access price tag when calculating bonuses that would be included in the actress' payout. "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," the attorney clarified. It was disclosed by Disney that Johansson was compensated $20 million for her starring role.

Johansson's lawyer, John Berlinski, said that Petrocelli's comments were a "desperate attempt" to salvage Disney's image amid the current controversy. It has been reported that Marvel Studios President/Chief Creative Office Kevin Fiege and former Disney CEO Bob Iger have been critical of Disney's behavior during the lawsuit. Time's Up, Women In Film, and ReFrame have chimed in about the situation at hand, perceiving it to be a "gendered attack."

SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris spoke on the confrontation between Disney and Johansson to defend the actress. "Scarlett Johansson is shining a white-hot spotlight on the improper shifts in compensation that companies are attempting to slip by talent as distribution models change," Carteris affirmed, "Nobody in any field of work should fall victim to surprise reductions in expected compensation. It is unreasonable and unjust. Disney and other content companies are doing very well and can certainly live up to their obligations to compensate the performers whose art and artistry are responsible for the corporation’s profits. Women are not ‘callous’ when they stand up and fight for fair pay – they are leaders and champions for economic justice."

Petrocelli predicts that the lawsuit will have the potential to affect long-term changes throughout the entertainment industry. He notes that "[future contracts] will become much more specific about the requirements for any contingent compensation." He added that "there’s a sea change because of the advent of the internet and the ability to put things out online. This will take time to resolve."

Disney has described the lawsuit as "especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," assuring that "the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced [Johansson's] ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date." Regardless of Disney's assertions, Johansson and her team move forward when fighting the studio against the declination to pay her the approximate $50 million that she earned.

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