BSA POV: Black Widow Lawsuit

Marie Brockhoff, Copy Senior Co-Editor

Marvel movies are known for their iconic fight scenes. However, behind the scenes, there are real-world battles between actors and entertainment companies occurring, which have far fewer flashy visuals but no less importance. 

Actress Scarlett Johansson, who plays Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sued Disney this summer for breaking their payment contract. The film “Black Widow” released in July after months of pandemic delays, appearing in movie theaters and on the streaming service Disney+ at the same time, a move which Johansson believes cost her roughly $50 million from box office sales. Actors usually receive far less money from streaming purchases than theater tickets, which is why pre-pandemic movies were in theaters for several months before becoming available for home viewing. Johansson’s fight with Disney brings questions about streaming services and how actors get compensated for their work to the forefront. 

“[Disney] signed a contract promising a certain amount, but they are not following the contract, so it makes sense why [Johansson] is suing Disney,” says eighth grader Evan Tangpornsin. “We have to pay the actors for what they’re trying to do, because you want them to have a fair wage.” 

Freshman Eni Wintoki agrees that Johansson’s actions make sense. “I think that that’s justified, considering she’s the main character in the movie,” she says. “I think [Disney] should have delayed making the movie available for streaming a little longer to give people an incentive to go watch the movie, then had them pay the extra fee for streaming to compensate Scarlett Johansson.” 

Seventh grader Aven Handshy understands Johansson’s motivations for suing, but he also sees the justification for Disney’s actions. “[Johansson] has the right to sue Disney if she was supposed to get paid more than she did . . . but I feel like she would be fine financially if she didn’t,” he says. “If [Disney] isn’t making as much money, it might have to cut corners on payment . . . I feel like they have the right to do that.” However, he believes Disney could have used a different negotiation tactic. “They could have told [Johansson] up front that she wouldn’t be getting paid as much,” says Handshy. 

For Wintoki, lack of proper compensation for actors might prevent her from watching a movie. “I probably wouldn’t want to support the movie or the company in general if I knew that they were purposely making it so the actors would make less money off of it,” she says. 

Tangpornsin has a different view. “Honestly not really, it wouldn’t stop me, because I’m still getting the same service, [although the actor] is getting paid less,” he says. Tangpornsin is an avid streamer. “I think streaming services are great because you get a lot more content,” he says. 

“I love streaming services; they’re very convenient, but watching movies in theaters . . . is definitely an experience that you can’t replace,” says Wintoki about whether theaters will make a comeback. “Some movies you want to watch just because of the theater experience . . . that popcorn is really good!” 

Faculty member and theater director Doug Weaver supports Johansson’s fight. “I’m usually in favor of anything that helps the actor,” he says. “[Johansson’s] question will not be solved until we figure out what we’re going to do with streaming. It has evolved somewhat recently because of the pandemic, but it was going to evolve anyway.” 

Typically, actors receive a vastly smaller cut of streaming income compared to what they earn from the box office. “The work itself is the same . . . but the way the actors are paid for it is different,” says Weaver. He sees Johansson as a leader in broader industry changes for actors. “She’s standing up and [fighting] for all actors, not just herself, which I think is important,” he says. “Until we change the rules, companies like Disney . . . will do what they are allowed to do.” 

In the wake of the “Black Widow” lawsuit, Disney’s latest release, “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (see reviews), went straight to theaters without a concurrent streaming appearance, making it unpredictable what Disney’s procedures will be regarding future movies. Regardless, the Black Widow lawsuit will continue to spark discussion about how actors are compensated, as well as how the public consumes media, in a changing industry.