Disney CEO Defends Disney+ Releases Amid Scarlett Johansson Lawsuit

Doubling down on dual releases. Disney boss Bob Chapek is standing up for the company’s movie distribution model in the wake of a lawsuit filed against the studio by Scarlett Johansson.

Chapek reportedly spoke with investors and analysts during an earnings call on Thursday, where he addressed Disney’s dual distribution plans, which involve releasing films in theaters and on Disney+ at or around the same time, Deadline reports.

This model of release was one reason for Johansson’s lawsuit after Black Widow dropped off in earnings significantly following its debut. The actress claimed in the lawsuit that releasing on both platforms was a breach of contract.

Chapek didn’t mention Johansson or Black Widow by name during the conference call, but reportedly explained, “We value flexibility in being able to make last-minute calls.”

He also said that during the studio’s initial plans to release films in theaters once more, they “didn’t anticipate the resurgence of COVID.”

Chapek said that he and former Disney CEO Bob Iger, who is now the chairman of the board for the studio, determined that hybrid distribution “was the right strategy to enable us to reach the broadest possible audience” amid the pandemic. He also explained that the strategy would be a viable option for the studio in the future.

“Distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis,” Chapek said. “We will continue to utilize all options going forward.”

Chapek also addressed concerns with fair compensation for actors when it comes to releasing films on Disney+ instead of solely in theaters, and reportedly claimed, “We’ve found ways to fairly compensate our talent so that, no matter what, everyone feels satisfied.”

Johansson — who stars as Natasha Romanoff in the latest Marvel film — is suing Disney for intentional interference with contractual relations and for inducing breach of contract. She is also demanding a jury trial.

Johansson alleges in the docs, which were submitted to the Los Angeles Superior Court late last month, that the simultaneous release of Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ was a breach of contract. The actress claims in the docs that she agreed her compensation for starring in Black Widow would be largely based on box office receipts generated by the film, and agreed to a theatrical release exclusive to movie theaters in order to maximize her pay.

“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” a Walt Disney Company spokesperson said in a statement to ET. “The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”

John Berlinski, Johansson’s attorney, also released a statement to ET, reading, “It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price — and that it’s hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so.”

“But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court,” the statement continued. “This will surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”

For more on Johansson’s involvement in Black Widow, check out the video below.

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