Like other changes to entertainment distribution through the years, the studio shift toward streaming — hastened by the unforeseen consequences of the pandemic — has Hollywood talent and their representatives demanding a different way to be paid.
Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney over the simultaneous streaming release of “Black Widow” marks perhaps the most significant push back thus far, setting the stage for a significant battle that promises to rewrite the rules over how stars get paid.
While Johansson received an upfront salary for starring in the movie — $20 million, according to Disney’s response to the lawsuit — her complaint notes that making the film available via Disney+ enhanced the value of the streaming service but reduced box-office revenue, depriving her of “box office bonuses” that would be calculated based on what “Black Widow” earned in theaters.
And it follows other expressions of discontent during the past year, as top actors and directors have chafed against studios prioritizing streaming in a way that threatens the theatrical model, and the way that actors traditionally shared in revenue from major hits. Unlike box-office totals, it’s more difficult to cleanly measure that in relation to streaming-service subscriptions.
Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over 'Black Widow' Disney+ release
Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over ‘Black Widow’ Disney+ release
The lawsuit comes at a pivotal moment for Hollywood — as the industry faces a moment that asks how audiences watch entertainment in the future, and how those who create it be compensated.
“We’re in a bit of a transitional period where the contracts that were struck did not anticipate this type of change in strategy,” Michael Nathanson, a media analyst at MoffettNathanson, told CNN Business. “I would think going forward from this point on every new contract will have to include language that figures out a way to compensate the talent for the potential of a direct-to-video, a direct-to-streaming watch.”