The Walt Disney Co. is asking a judge to force Scarlett Johansson to arbitrate her claims that the entertainment giant breached her contract by releasing her latest Marvel film “Black Widow” on the Disney+ streaming service despite assurances it would debut only in theaters.
The lawsuit, brought July 29 in Los Angeles Superior Court through the actress’ company, Periwinkle Entertainment Inc., contends that the 36-year-old Johansson structured her salary for “Black Widow” to be “based largely on `box office’ receipts generated by the picture.”
But in court papers filed Friday, Disney’s lawyers say an arbitrator should decide the actress’ claims, not a jury.
“Periwinkle agreed that all claims arising out of, in connection with, or relating to Scarlett Johansson’s acting services for `Black Widow’ would be submitted to confidential, binding arbitration in New York,” Disney’s lawyers stated in their court papers. “Permitting this litigation to proceed would thwart not only Periwinkle’s express agreement to arbitrate all Black Widow-related claims, but also decades of law and policy requiring enforcement of arbitration agreements.”
Seth Weinger, vice president of deal analysis and development finance at the Walt Disney Studios, said in a sworn declaration that as of Aug. 15 the film has grossed more than $367 million in worldwide theatrical box-office receipts.
A hearing on Disney’s motion is scheduled for Oct. 15 before Judge Robert Draper.
According to the suit, the actress was promised by Marvel that the film would have a “theatrical release,” and that Disney knew of the commitment, but still directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in theaters.
The lawsuit contends that Johansson and Marvel Studios signed a contract for her to appear in “Black Widow,” guaranteeing a “wide theatrical release” and ensuring the film “would remain exclusively in movie theaters for a period of between approximately 90 and 120 days.” The deal, however, was finalized six months before the November 2019 launch of the Disney+ streaming service, the suit alleges.
In their arbitration motion, Disney attorneys say Johansson’s attorneys had a strategy in deciding not to sue Marvel.
“In a futile effort to evade this unavoidable result (of arbitration) and generate publicity through a public filing, Periwinkle excluded Marvel as a party to this lawsuit, substituting instead its parent company Disney under contract-interference theories,” the Disney attorneys stated in their court papers. “But longstanding principles do not permit such gamesmanship.”
The suit further alleges the streaming release’s goal was to boost interest in the Disney+ service while also allowing Disney to “keep the revenues for itself.”
Disney sought to “substantially devalue Ms. Johansson’s agreement and thereby enrich itself,” the lawsuit states.