Disney Calls Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow Lawsuit a PR Stunt

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Black Widow, Marvel, MCU, Disney, Scarlett Johansson

It was always a conversation amongst fans that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow never had a solo film, like most of the other Avengers. Marvel Studios, eventually, heard those calls, and now Black Widow exists because of them––even if it does come after her unfortunate end in Avengers: Endgame.

Black Widow premiered on both Disney+ and in theaters on the same day and was received warmly by critics and fans alike. Not only was it a bittersweet final note for Natasha Romanoff, but it perfectly set the stage for her spiritual successor in Yelena Belova.

While everything was going fine, the actress behind the iconic character of Black Widow dropped a bombshell when it was announced that she had gone ahead and sued Disney, accusing the studios of breaching her contract with the release method of Black WidowNeedless to say, Disney didn't take kindly to her allegations.

While there's been some public back and forth on the matter, Variety was able to speak to one of Disney's attorneys on the matter.


Black Widow Disney Plus

Variety spoke to longtime Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli, who told the outlet that the demands found in Johansson's litigation are far out of bounds if the actor's contract with the studios.

A metaphor he used to sum up the situation was that Scarlett Johansson and her team are trying to force Disney to write a check which had backfired. Petrocellie didn't stop there, as he went on to say the whole ordeal "[was] 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 said. “No amount of public pressure can change or obscure the explicit contractual commitments. The written contract is clear as a bell.”

Petrocelli noted that the contract calls for both sides to go to arbitration instead of open court––which breeds situations that are able to be handled more quietly, cleanly, and with less controversy.

One of Scarlett Johansson's accusations was that Black Widow's release on Disney Premier Access negatively impacted her overall earnings from the film.

Petrocelli counters this, pointing out that the streaming release was actually a boost for the actor. Her revenue from Black Widow's Premier Access was factored in the box-office tally for the purpose of computing bonuses.

According to the attorney, this situation "only enhanced the economics for Ms. Johansson."

“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."

Petrocelli defends some decisions made, saying that "the studio was trying to accommodate millions of fans...:"

“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... All studios have had to adjust.”

The conflict, in general, is heightened by having played out against the larger backdrop of the film industry in transition. The intricate details of contracts and compensation for the talent haven't kept up with the changes in how movie/television shows are produced and/or distributed.

In the future, the attorney predicts that talent deals will "become much more specific about the requirements for any contingent compensation:"

“become much more specific about the requirements for any contingent compensation... 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 certainly isn't making the whole situation any better with their tone, and how they are addressing the matter publicly. Their initial response shocked even Scarlett Johnasson's camp, not to mention the rumors of Kevin Feige, and how he is furious the whole thing happened in the first place.

It's important to note, that while it is easy to initially fall into one camp or the other, nobody but those closely involved truly know all the details required to properly evaluate the situation. Sure, Disney is a big corporation that draws lots of hate inherently, and Johansson is a fan favorite MCU actor––so it's easy to see where initial public reactions land.

It's just important to remember that the public has no idea of the intricacies involved, and it's best to just sit back and watch the fireworks. Nobody knows how this whole ordeal will end, but one thing is for sure: it is the first step to some of the biggest changes the film industry has seen in decades.

- In This Article: Black Widow
Release Date
July 09, 2021
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.