Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit over Black Widow’s distribution on Disney+ has harmed Disney, but it hasn’t had the same impact on Marvel Studios. Johansson’s contract, which owed royalty payments, particularly for theatrical release revenues, guaranteed such a release, a commitment that was breached by the simultaneous premiere on Disney+ Premier Access. Disney’s response has been condemned as harsh and slanderous, and their given justification, that the worldwide epidemic rendered their streaming release the only acceptable option, fails to address their violation of contract. Kevin Feige, the CEO of Marvel Studios, has allegedly expressed indignation and humiliation over how Johansson has been handled-a radically different reaction, and one that puts the Marvel movie division in a far more positive light than its parent corporation. The optics of this case have been negative for Disney, with performers and producers concerned that if the business prevails, future contracts may be treated similarly. While Marvel Studios may not have the authority to overturn Disney’s decision, they are unlikely to face the same level of fan criticism as Disney.
In some ways, Johansson’s future with Disney appears to be jeopardized, but does it really matter? While Disney’s many subsidiary firms provide the behemoth with a large market share of entertainment properties, Johansson is unlikely to have problems finding new projects. (She has already been cast in Wes Anderson’s upcoming project.) Nonetheless, Disney’s blatant use of the public as a method of defense against Johansson and her case may be too destructive. Disney’s business image has taken a hit as their faith in their willingness to follow through on contractual responsibilities has been undermined. Blaming COVID for the streaming decision simply adds fuel to the fire.
While Marvel Studios is a part of Disney, it has managed to dodge the worst of the lawsuit’s consequences. Feige’s remarks have improved Marvel’s public image, but it remains to be seen whether this will assist with the industry impact of the contract violation and litigation. Because Marvel Studios is a fully owned company, and is exonerated solely on the basis of having had minimal control over the distribution choice, they are still in the same position as when the Black Widow decision was made. Although moviegoers’ preferences for the MCU may not change, the outcome of the Black Widow case will have far-reaching implications for both Disney and Marvel as a movie studio.
There is no obvious route forward for the parties involved. Even if Disney were to completely alter its stance, first impressions are powerful, and the public perception of this case has been overwhelmingly unfavorable. Because of Feige, Marvel Studios will maintain a more favorable public front, but until the studio is granted greater autonomy, this may be a Pyrrhic triumph; deeds must follow words, and with the businesses’ interdependence, the industry’s impact will still splash. Whatever the final verdict, Black Widow will be remembered as a historic picture, both as a conclusion to the character in the MCU and for the legal and public relations precedent it established.