Movies

Disney CEO Defends Studio Amid Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Black Widow’ Lawsuit: “Our Talent Is Our Most Important Asset”

Coincidentally this morning at Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference, Disney CEO Bob Chapek was asked a question about the compensation of Hollywood talent in the wake of long-standing distribution models being upended, and the advantages the studio has in terms of being a place that talent wants to work in a direct-to-consumer marketplace.

This question at the confab in the wake of a continued fiery lawsuit with Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson, who has sued Disney over lost monies due to the film’s theatrical-day-and-date-PVOD release on Disney+, and also the studio making good with Cruella star Emma Stone for a sequel.

Answered Chapek, “Disney has had a long history of having very symbiotic and cooperative deals with the talent and we will continue to.”

“Certainly the world is changing, and the talent deals going forward will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing,” Chapek continued without naming names.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The most recent maneuver by Disney in Johansson’s lawsuit saw the studio trying to push the legal battle into a confidential arbitration, one which the actress’ lawyer John Berlinski slammed. Previously, following Johansson’s legal filing, the studio publicly bashed her exclaiming through a spokesperson “There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. 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.” The 2x Oscar nominee’s agent blasted back at Disney for attacking Johansson’s character, leaving talent out of the studio’s streaming equation.

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