In preparing their defense for Scarlett Johansson’s suit over the Black Widow release, Disney is expected to invoke a clause known as force majeure.
Here’s how Disney is expected to defend themselves in their ongoing lawsuit with Scarlett Johansson over the release of Black Widow. After a year of insisting that the first movie of the MCU’s Phase 4 would receive an exclusive theatrical run, Disney made the surprising decision to give Black Widow a Disney+ Premier Access release as well as time in theaters. In response, Johansson sued Disney last week, citing a breach of contract that resulted in the actress losing out on tens of millions of dollars. Johansson was set to earn large bonuses off of Black Widow‘s box office earnings, but that now seems unlikely with its lower-than-expected worldwide total.
Since Johansson filed the suit, the matter has only gotten messier in the public eye. Not long after the lawsuit was revealed online, Disney blasted Johansson in a blistering statement that accused her of being callous amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The statement drew the ire of both Johansson and several women’s groups, and the anger reportedly goes inward too. Both Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and Disney’s former CEO Bob Iger are dissatisfied with the Black Widow situation, and it might not get much better as legal proceedings get underway.
A new feature on the Black Widow lawsuit from Vulture explains what Disney’s method of defense is expected to be. Though the court of public opinion so far seems to be on Johansson’s side, Disney will likely invoke force majeure, or a contractual clause that frees parties from both obligation and liability in the face of unforeseeable circumstances. Many would say that a worldwide pandemic would fall under that category.
Disney isn’t the only studio to adopt streaming releases in the face of the pandemic, with Warner Bros. perhaps being the most notable example. All of Warner Bros.’ 2021 movies, from Godzilla vs. Kong to Dune, have been or will be released on HBO Max at the same time they debut in theaters. Though the decision prompted mixed responses from WB’s talent, the studio has so far managed to avoid lawsuits like the Black Widow one. However, Warner Bros. took care to adjust the contracts of their creatives; Disney did not do that with Johansson.
Whether force majeure will be enough to secure a win for Disney remains to be seen, but it’s hard to argue that a pandemic isn’t an “unforeseeable circumstance.” Johansson has her own contract on her side, as well as the support of those around her. Even before the pandemic began, the actress was concerned about Black Widow getting a streaming release, so this wasn’t a new issue. This is a thorny lawsuit, and it will likely continue to get much attention. Stay tuned for more updates.
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