July 9 marked the long-awaited debut of Black Widow, and Scarlett Johansson is still getting plenty of attention for her ninth and final Marvel Cinematic Universe movie (including her brief appearance in Captain Marvel), but not for the reasons we were expecting. Last week, Johansson sued Disney over the company allegedly breaching its contract with her when it made Black Widow available on Disney+ Premier Access alongside its theatrical run. Numerous people in the entertainment industry have expressed support for Johansson’s legal crusade, and now we can count producer Jason Blum, founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, among that bunch.
Shortly after Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit was announced, Disney issued a public statement saying that it found said lawsuit “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” as well was noted that the actress received “additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.” As part of The Hollywood Reporter’s extensive writeup on how Disney’s response to Johansson’s lawsuit has been received in the Hollywood space, Jason Blum said the following:
It’s a very difficult thing to do, it’s really brave to do and she’s fighting for all of talent.
Jason Blum is among the people who believe that streaming services should share revenue with talent, and while he acknowledged the hypocrisy of this stance given that Blumhouse jus signed a huge deal with Universal Pictures to make a new Exorcist trilogy, that’s a model he hopes isn’t sustainable. The alternative, as he sees it, is simply paying the corporation, which isn’t any better.
Black Widow is the latest Disney movie to premiere on Disney+’s Premier Access tier at the same time it plays in theaters, with others including Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella and Jungle Cruise. This release strategy has been adopted as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, much like how Warner Bros’ entire 2021 release slate is playing on both the big screen and on HBO Max. Although in that instance, HBO Max subscribers can access these WB movies for 31 days at no additional charge, while Premier Access charges an addition $29.99 to always have the movie available as long as you’re subscribed to Disney+. Disney CEO Bob Chapek has also been making a concerted effort to draw in more Disney+ subscribers to drive up Disney’s stock price, and putting Black Widow on the platform has helped with this.
Regardless, this situation with Scarlett Johansson has opened up a proverbial can of worms and could lead to more actors suing Disney for similar financial reasons (which Cruella’s Emma Stone is reportedly considering). Because unlike Warner Bros, evidently the Mouse House didn’t shell out additional money to its biggest talent after implementing the day-and-date release plan (though admittedly, WB didn’t do this until after backlash to the initial announcement came pouring in). Here’s what Jason Blum had to say about what he believes streaming services are hoping to accomplish in the coming years:
What the streamers are betting on is that in the next three to five years, there will only be three or four [of them] left pumping content into homes, and they’ll be so powerful that they will be able to push the price down of producing, of paying talent, of paying producers, of paying writers, directors. I personally don’t think they’ll be able to do it, but that’s what they’re betting on.
Whether or not this happens remains to be seen, although an unnamed producer who also spoke with THR stated that they see this segment of the entertainment landscape becoming “work for hire.” In other words, talent will still “get a huge payment up front,” but there won’t be “huge home runs” anymore and associated fees will “get smaller.” Jason Blum added that when it comes to streaming movies, if you’re not “participating in the upside or downside,” that results in the creative process being “compromised,” and he predicts there will be “a ton of lawsuits” that hopefully lead to “sharing in streaming.”
We’ll keep you apprised on more updates on Scarlett Johansson’s Disney lawsuit as they trickle in. For now, the next movie on the MCU film slate is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and as of this writing, it’s only going to play in theaters rather than also be put on Disney+ Premier Access.