It would end up happening sooner or later, but COVID-19 seems to have made it sooner rather than later. As many already know, the Coronavirus managed to disrupt almost every aspect of our global society. And one of the worst parts is that it rendered our normal forms of coping with stress, like going to a movie or spending time with friends, impossible. As a result, the movie industry took a massive hit from which it has yet to recover. Enter the power of streaming services. Like angels descending from Heaven, platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, and more came to us in our hour of need. They provided us with all the content we could want, with Disney and Warner Bros going so far as to release new films on their respective services.
While having the option to see Godzilla vs. Kong or Space Jam: A New Legacy in your home as it came out in theaters seemed like a great idea, it may have had unexpected consequences. Now, those consequences have taken center stage with Scarlett Johannson’s lawsuit against Disney over her latest film. As a result, this could lead to a serious conversation about how streaming affects the entertainment industry and the actors who make it happen.
Black Widow vs. Mickey Mouse
When Disney revealed that Natasha Romanoff, AKA the Black Widow, would be getting her own solo film, her fans rejoiced. At last, it would be the Black Widow’s time to shine. However, COVID-19 brought those plans to a screeching halt. The ongoing Pandemic forced Disney to push back the release date of the film continually. Then, in July 2021, more than a year after its initial planned release, Black Widow came out in theaters. However, Disney also made the decision to simultaneously release it on Disney+, albeit behind a $30 paywall.
The decision seemed to make sense. With COVID-19 remaining a threat as we work to get enough people vaccinated, not everyone wants to risk going to the movies yet. So, giving people a chance to watch it at home seems like a fair deal. However, Scarlett Johannson doesn’t see that way, and here’s why.
Firstly, lawyers representing Scarlett claim that she and Disney reached a deal regarding her cut of the profits from the film. Depending on how much money it made in theaters, she’d get a bonus on her paycheck. A deal like this is not unheard of, and there’s no doubt that many A-list stars make similar deals. In addition, Scarlett’s lawyers claim that, as part of her contract, Black Widow would be released exclusively in theaters. By releasing simultaneously on Disney+, Scarlett claims that they not only violated her contract but cost her much of the bonus money she could’ve earned.
Long and Short of It.
In other words, Scarlett feels like she’s being cheated out of the money and success that she would’ve gotten had Disney released it just in theaters. At the same time, Disney points out that she made 20$ million from the film already, which is more than what most people could hope to earn. In addition, Disney claims she’s disregarding the fact that the world’s changed in light of the Pandemic. The movie industry has yet to reach the levels of box office revenue it had before COVID-19 hit, and had to adapt to the circumstances.
Both Sides Have Valid Points
This lawsuit will likely prove to be very divisive. Regardless, I think it should be noted that both sides have a point about this.
On Scarlett’s part, she is within her rights to be concerned about Disney’s decision. Of the original roster of Avengers in the MCU, the only ones who didn’t get their own solo films were Hawkeye and the Black Widow. It took years for Marvel to agree to give Natasha Romanoff the film that she deserved. Thus, I think Scarlett would fight to make sure she got fair treatment for herself and the Black Widow. It may be not so much money but a manner of pride in herself as an actor.
Secondly, she does have a point about the simultaneous release undermining her film’s success at the box office—the movie’s locked behind a $30 paywall on Disney+, which does sound expensive. But consider how this could cover everyone in a house so they could all watch the movie. When you compare that to how theaters charge people individually for tickets, it’s clear that streaming is the cheaper option. In other words, yes, Disney’s shooting itself in the foot with this decision.
At the same time, you have to acknowledge the Mouse’s point on this matter. The world’s still dealing with a Pandemic, and while things have improved, they could easily go downhill once more, and the film could languish in Limbo for who knows how long. With it already being two years since Avengers: Endgame and the MCU moving forward to Phase 4, Marvel’s window of relevance for Black Widow was closing. So, they had to take a risk and release it now.
In addition, there’s a possibility that Disney was aware that a simultaneous release would undermine their own film. However, given the climate we’re in, they may have felt like they had no other choice. They could either wait for the Pandemic to end and risk the film becoming irrelevant, or do this and risk it not earning as much money as it could have otherwise. Disney made the decision that made the most financial sense.
The Future of Streaming and Actor’s Relationships With It.
Regardless of which side ends up winning, this lawsuit brings an important issue to the forefront. The rise of streaming services means that older forms of watching entertainment must either adapt or die. Cable’s on the verge of exiting, and thanks to the Pandemic, the future of movie theaters is in doubt. If studios decide to switch to releasing films on streaming platforms gradually, then the industry will have to rethink how it measure’s a film’s success. Instead of box office worth, views on Netflix or Hulu may determine a movie’s profitability. If that happens, then actors will need to change their expectations of being paid.
As of now, it’s still too early to tell how things will go. However, I feel like COVID-19’s going to force the movie industry to make some changes regarding how actor’s get paid for movies. In the future, locking new movies behind a paywall may be the norm, allowing studios to keep making profits and actor’s to be paid for them.
These are just my thoughts, though, and I want to hear yours. Do you agree with either side in this lawsuit? Do you think that both sides have a point? Let us know down in the comments below.