Disney Boss Defends Release Strategy Amid Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow Lawsuit

Scarlett Johansson took legal action against Disney last month, accusing the company of breaching her contract.

Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek has defended the entertainment titan’s release strategy after Scarlett Johansson sued for breach of contract.

The Oscar-nominated actor – one of Marvel’s biggest stars – launched legal action last month over the streaming release of superhero movie Black Widow.

Johansson said her contract guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release and the film’s arrival on Disney+ at the same time as it was shown in cinemas deprived her of potential earnings.

Disney issued a strongly worded response, accusing the star of showing a “callous disregard” to the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson
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Chapek addressed the strategy in the company’s latest earnings call with investors and said the “unpredictable” nature of the health crisis called for flexibility regarding film releases.

He said Black Widow was “the top performing film at the domestic box office since the start of the pandemic” and he and Disney chairman Bob Iger agreed over the release strategy.

Chapek said: “Both Bob Iger and I, along with the leaders of our creative and distribution teams, determined this was the right strategy because it would enable us to reach the broadest possible audience.”

He told Wall Street analysts “distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis” based on market conditions and consumer behaviour.

And he insisted future release strategies would be based on what Disney believes “is in the best interest of the film and the best interest of our constituents”.

Bob Chapek
Bob Chapek
Gerardo Mora via Getty Images

Later in the earnings call, Chapek said the compensation agreed with talent was fair, though did not mention Johansson by name.

He said: “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.

“And I will say that since Covid has begun we have entered into hundreds of talent arrangements with our talent and by and large they have gone very, very smoothly.

“So we expect that that will be the case going forward.”

Elsewhere in the call, analysts were told Disney+ now has 116 million subscribers, about double the number from a year ago.

And the Walt Disney Company was back in profit for the most recent quarter thanks to its reopened parks.

Revenue in the parks and products division surged to 4.3 billion dollars (£3.1 billion) from 1.1 billion dollars (£797 million) a year ago.