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Disney CEO Discusses Talent Compensation in the Wake of Scarlett Johansson Lawsuit

Jeff Gritchen | MediaNews Group | Orange County Register via Getty Images
  • Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the company has found ways to fairly compensate its talent regardless of how it releases its films.
  • Chapek comments come just two weeks after Marvel star Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging it breached her contract by releasing "Black Widow" on Disney+.
  • He said the company is trying to make sure all talent feels like their contractual commitments are being honored.

The Walt Disney Company has "figured out ways to fairly compensate" talent regardless of its film release method, CEO Bob Chapek said during an earnings call Thursday.

Chapek's comments, which were prompted during analyst Q&A, come just two weeks after Marvel star Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging it breached her contract by releasing "Black Widow" on Disney+.

"Since Covid has begun, we've entered hundreds of talent arrangements with our talent and by and large, they've gone very very smoothly, so we expect that that would be the case going forward," he said.

Chapek did not directly address the ongoing lawsuit with Johansson, but said the company is "trying to do the best thing for all our constituents and make sure that everybody whose in the value chain ... feels like they're having their contractual commitments honored both from a distribution and a compensation standpoint."

Johansson's lawsuit stems from Disney's new hybrid release strategy, which was also used for "Mulan" and "Raya and the Last Dragon." It was utilized at a time of uncertainty in the theatrical market to bring movies to cinemas and to home audiences for a $30 fee.

It was clear that streaming cannibalized box office receipts. Since it's July release, "Black Widow" has tallied $185.4 million domestically and nearly $359 million globally. Disney reported "Black Widow" garnered $60 million from sales on Disney+ during its opening weekend, but has not shared additional information about its digital performance.

Previous Marvel films have averaged more than $100 million in ticket sales during their opening weekends and nearly $1 billion over the course of their theatrical runs.

Typically, companies do not comment ongoing lawsuits, but Disney responded to Johansson's lawsuit with a scathing public statement that suggested the star had a "callous disregard" for the coronavirus and revealed it had paid her $20 million so far.

The statement drew the ire of Johansson's famed Hollywood agent, Bryan Lourd, as well as the Screen Actors Guild.

The development also raised questions about how other actors, who had similar contracts that guaranteed bonuses for box office performance, may respond to having their own films released on Disney+ and in theaters.

"Certainly this is a time of anxiety in the marketplace, as a lot has changed recently and, again, these films that we're releasing right now were imagined under a completely different environment than unfortunately the fate has delivered us," Chapek said.

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