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Scarlett Johansson’s Lawsuit Against Disney: Explained

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

By Chloe Barth

For over half a decade, Scarlett Johansson served as the only female lead in Marvel’s famous superhero group, The Avengers. She has portrayed Natasha Romanoff, AKA the Black Widow, since 2010’s Iron Man II. Before the addition of other female cast members, Johansson faced the brunt of visible misogyny alone. 2021’s Black Widow now marks the actress’s ninth and final appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film serves as a prequel to the character’s ultimate demise. Until its release, the character appeared to be largely neglected in the films. Despite moments hinting at a deeper complexity to her, Johansson had noticeably fewer lines than her male co-stars, and the lines that she did often contained sexual undertones. Johansson has said that while her introductory film Iron Man 2 “was really fun and had a lot of great moments in it, the character is so sexualized, you know? [She is] really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or a thing or whatever – like a piece of ass, really.” The actress went on to reference Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man’s first reaction to the character. In the scene, Stark’s eyes trail her as she meanders out of the frame. He then proclaims, “I want one,” before hiring her as his assistant.

The Black Widow solo film was meant to overturn all of that. The film boasts a female director, a distinct change from the sexualization that Johansson and her character have faced under the male gaze. Joss Whedon, who has been accused numerous times of inappropriate on-set behavior, even directed two of Johansson’s first three Marvel films. As star and executive producer, the actress has expressed excitement for the chance to finally dive deeper into the Black Widow. She referred to Black Widow as Marvel’s “#MeToo” movie, in the way that it finally does justice to the rich and tattered history of the title character. However, Johansson is now suing over alleged breach of contract for the same film.

The suit is filed against Disney, Marvel’s parent company. The suit states that Johansson’s contract with Marvel ensured an exclusively theatrical release for Black Widow, a move that would significantly increase box office earnings and therefore Johansson’s own pay. However, Disney allegedly breached this contract to simultaneously release the movie in theatres and on its streaming service Disney+. According to the complaint filed, this move was deliberate. Johansson filmed numerous promotional clips under the pretext of a theatrical release, the suit states. These clips were then used, by extension, as advertisements for Disney+ once the film was released onto the streaming service.

“Disney knew that the cannibalization of [box office receipts] by Disney+ would save Marvel (and by extension, Disney) ‘very large’ amounts of money that it would otherwise owe Ms. Johansson.”

Disney slammed Johansson in its response. The fiery wording quickly received backlash for its misogynistic tone, referring to Johansson as “callous” for prioritizing earnings above safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, is reportedly “angry and embarrassed” over Disney’s response. While Disney alleged that they never breached contract, an insider revealed that Feige lobbied for Black Widow’s theatrical release as well, and once Johansson threatened litigation, he “wanted Disney to make this right with her.”

Amidst the chaos, Emily Blunt and Emma Stone are now reportedly considering suing Disney as well. The two star in Jungle Cruise and Cruella, respectively. Like Black Widow, both films were released in hybrid format in theaters and on Disney+. Rumors of these possible lawsuits appear to have some merit. In a more quiet legal battle, Emily Blunt and husband John Krasinski allegedly sought compensation from Paramount earlier this year. The move came after their film A Quiet Place Part II was placed on an accelerated timeline that brought the film to Paramount’s streaming service earlier than agreed upon. It is unclear how the dispute was resolved, as the actors as well as Paramount remained fittingly silent. More vocal Disney representatives, however, make clear attempts to defame Johansson’s character. Despite these efforts, she and her team remain firm that the case is not a money-grabbing attempt. It is instead a necessary step to reclaim earnings from a multibillion dollar corporation that breached their contract. The women who may now follow her reiterate the fact that Johansson is not alone in speaking up against the streaming service; she is simply the first.

Jana Clark

Manhattan '22

Jana Clark is a senior at Manhattan College majoring in Communication with a minor in Environmental Studies. Her passions include writing, photography, and health/nutrition! One day she hopes to work for a nonprofit organization where she can be part of the effort to end the marginalization of vulnerable communities and fight for social justice. You can often find Jana volunteering, at the gym, or exploring different parts of the Big Apple.
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