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Disney Changing Actor Contract Policy After Scarlett Johansson Lawsuit


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Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirms the studio will change its contract policy following Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit over the release of Black Widow. The coronavirus pandemic has altered the entertainment industry irrevocably, with streamers rising up over the past year in the face of movie theater closures and audiences unwilling to venture out in public. Most major studios have adopted streaming alternatives for their biggest movies, including Disney. It has sent 5 movies to Disney+ Premier Access since the pandemic began, from Mulan to Jungle Cruise.

Of all the Premier Access movies, it's Black Widow that has caused the most trouble even as it rakes in big bucks for Disney. In late July, Johansson stunned the industry when she sued Disney over breach of contract due to the Marvel film's streaming release. Johansson alleged she lost out on millions of dollars in box office bonuses, and that she was  promised an exclusive theatrical run. The public legal battle over Black Widow has gotten messy, with both sides slamming the other. Currently, Disney is working to avoid going to trial.

RELATED: Scarlett Johansson’s Disney Lawsuit May Ruin A Potential Marvel Twist

If anything is clear from this situation, it's that Disney needs better communication with its stars if streaming is going to continue to be a priority. CEO Chapek evidently knows this now, as he said at Goldman Sachs’ 30th annual Communacopia Conference (via Deadline) that the studio will be adjusting its actor contracts in the future. "Disney has had a long history of having very symbiotic and cooperative deals with the talent and we will continue to," Chapek began. "Certainly the world is changing, and the talent deals going forward will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing." He then elaborated by saying:

“We’re in a moment of time where films were envisioned under one understanding about what the world would be, because frankly it hadn’t changed much. Remember, those films were made three or four years ago; those deals were cut three or four years ago. Then they get launched in the middle of a global pandemic where that pandemic itself is accelerating a second dynamic, which is this changing consumer behavior. So we’re sort of putting a square peg in a round hole right now where we’ve got a deal conceived under a certain set of conditions, that actually results in a movie that is being released in a completely different set of conditions.

“So there’s a bit of rest going on right now. Ultimately, we’ll think about that as we do our future talent deals and plan for that and make sure that’s incorporated. But right now we have this sort of middle position, where we’re trying to do right by the talent, I think the talent is trying to do right by us, and we’re just figuring out our way to bridge the gap. Ultimately we believe our talent is our most important asset, and we’ll continue to believe that, and as we always have, we’ll compensate them fairly per the terms of the contract that they agreed to us with.”

Proper compensation for talent when something moves to streaming has become an important topic in the industry. Warner Bros. found itself in hot water late last year when it announced all 2021 movies would be releasing day and date on HBO Max; the studio had to renegotiate deals with stars like Will Smith and Margot Robbie. The basis of Johansson's Black Widow lawsuit is that Disney did no such thing despite initial efforts on the actress' part. While other Disney stars like Dwayne Johnson and Emma Stone opted not to sue, it's clear that Johansson's suit has sent a message.

This further indicates that Disney will continue to put a priority on streaming in the future, which isn't surprising. The Mouse House will definitely roll out its Marvel and Star Wars pictures exclusively on the big screen, but smaller movies might become Premier Access releases. If that is the case, revised actor contracts will be necessary. The pandemic has shown that not everything in the moviemaking business can remain the same, and that includes how deals are struck. It's better to avoid another Black Widow situation if possible, and hopefully Disney will be able to do so by compensating its talent fairly.

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