Disney CEO Defends Talent Compensation Amid Scarlett Johansson Lawsuit

Two weeks after Scarlett Johansson sued Disney for alleged breach of contract over her Black Widow pay, the group's CEO Bob Chapek defended the company’s compensation structure.

By Corinne Heller Aug 13, 2021 5:36 PMTags
Watch: Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over "Black Widow" Release

Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek says the company has figured out ways to fairly compensate actors regardless of the business model under which their projects are released. His comments come two weeks after Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against the company.

Last month, the actress sued the corporation for allegedly breaching her contract by offering Black Widow, her standalone Marvel superhero movie, for rent on its streaming service Disney+ at the same time it debuted the film in theaters. In her complaint, she alleged that her contract guaranteed exclusive theatrical release and argued that the hybrid release led to a reduction in her compensation. Disney later said in a statement there was "no merit whatsoever" to the suit.

On Thursday, Aug. 12, in a conference call with analysts following the release of Disney's 2021 Q3 earnings report, Chapek was asked how he thinks about the success of a film in today's environment, and how it impacts the way the company attracts and compensates talent. Johansson was not mentioned.

A Guide to All the Marvel TV Shows Streaming on Disney+

"Just like we've done many times before, as the business has evolved and transformed, we've figured out ways to fairly compensate our talent, so that no matter what the business model is that we have to go to market with, everybody feels satisfied," he said. "And I will say that since COVID has begun, we've entered into hundreds of talented arrangements with our talent. And by and large, they've gone very, very smoothly. So, we expect that, that would be the case going forward."

Chapek continued, "These films that we're releasing right now were imagined under a completely different environment than unfortunately, the fate has delivered us. But, we're trying to do the best thing for all our constituents and make sure that everybody who's in the value chain, if you will, feels like they're having their contractual commitments honored, both from a distribution and a compensation standpoint."

Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images; Broadimage/Shutterstock

In its statement about Johansson's lawsuit, Disney said the company "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 $20 million she has received to date."

The corporation also called the complaint "especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." The actress' agent, Bryan Lourd, later fired back in her defense, saying in a statement that the company has "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." He added, "This suit was filed as a result of Disney's decision to knowingly violate Scarlett's contract. 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. That's it, pure and simple."

Disney has not commented on Lourd's statement.

In addition to Black Widow, Disney also offered several other movies, such as the live-action Mulan and Jungle Cruise, on Disney+ in addition to giving them a theatrical release. But a different strategy will be implemented for the company's newest Marvel film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The movie will first be screened exclusively in theaters, starting on Sept. 3, for 45 days instead of the typical 90 before heading to Disney+.

"On Shang-Chi, we think it's actually going to be an interesting experiment for us because it's got only a 45-day window for us," Chapek told analysts. "So, the prospect of being able to take a Marvel title to the service after going theatrical with 45 days will be yet another data point to inform our actions going forward on our titles."

He continued, "When we planned Shang-Chi, that title was planned on being in a much more healthy theatrical environment. And at this point, unfortunately, due to distribution agreements that we have and due to just the practicalities of last-minute changes, it wouldn't be possible."

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