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Scarlett Johansson’s 'Black Widow' Lawsuit Against Disney Isn't The Feminist Fight People Think It Is

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scarlett johansson black widow disney lawsuit

Scarlett Johansson and her team have filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company for allegedly breaching their contract with her and the release of ‘Black Widow.’

In the lawsuit, Johansson claimed that she was promised an exclusively theatrical release of the film because part of her contract and payout was contingent on box office success.

Women are in a never-ending battle for fair pay and eradicating the wage gap, so ScarJo’s legal battle seems like a huge step in the right direction, but it’s not the feminist fight everyone thinks it is.

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Will Scarlett Johansson win 'Black Widow' lawsuit against Disney? 

Unfortunately, Johansson's case isn't as strong as she might hope. Nor is it a clear cut example of a woman being screwed over by film executives.

Disney's biggest defense and Johansson's biggest contender in this legal battle is a certain pesky competitor — COVID-19. 

Yes, COVID-19 is the biggest factor that Johansson and her team will be fighting in this case against Disney.

Johansson will need to prove that Disney's breach of contract was both deliberate and unjustified. And given how many movie theaters were shut down by the pandemic, it's not a stretch to say that Disney's decision to take 'Black Widow' straight to streaming platforms was warranted. 

Contract law has a concept called "frustration of purpose" where contractual duty is excused upon unforeseen circumstances.

Cue the pandemic that not even Disney could have predicted.

In the lawsuit, Johansson's team argue that Disney “knew the theatrical market was ‘weak,’ rather than waiting a few months for that market to recover.”

However, the release of 'Black Widow' was delayed for an entire year and with the pandemic still raging on, how much longer did Johansson want Disney to wait?

Even some of the weaker aspects of Johansson's case may not stop her from getting at least some money out of Disney. 

Disney will likely settle Scarlett Johansson's case out of court.

The ScarJo team made a great move by going public with the story — lining up the lawsuit filing with an article from The Wall Street Journal.

In doing so, Johansson makes Disney's legal struggles public knowledge, let's potential investors in their streaming platform know that trouble could be ahead, and opens up the possibility for Disney's finances to be examined in court. 

That could definitely be enough leverage to push Disney to settle the case before it goes before a court!

This ensures, along with some specific wording within the lawsuit, that the issue stays in the open court and doesn’t lead to arbitration — a privately handled dispute.

There’s an advantage in that, but Disney still has a card to play even if the dispute appears in front of a judge.

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Disney could argue for “frustration of purpose” in the dealings of this issue, and probably win the legal battle because of it.

Is Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit a feminist win?

While the precedent for the lawsuit isn’t aggressively pinned on the fact that she’s a woman, the outcome of this battle is being watched heavily by lawmakers for that exact reason.

This lawsuit is in the spotlight because if the case is won, it will lead to further litigation based on sex and lawyers can find the vulnerabilities in those cases more easily — and she can still win.

Just because the case is potentially weak, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.

Since the movie was released both on Disney+ and in theaters, they disobeyed the contract and might have cost Johansson millions of dollars in box office compensation.

"It's no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company's stock price — and that it's hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext to do so," John Berlinski, Johansson's attorney, told CNN Business. "But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court.”

Will Scarlett Johansson suing Disney lead other actresses to do the same? 

Eyes are already being drawn to Disney’s next film, ‘Jungle Cruise,’ and how Dwayne Johnson is being paid more than double what Emily Blunt is getting.

There are also reports that Emma Stone might be looking for legal action against Disney for the film Cruella.

Their response to the Scarlett Johansson suit has people up in arms as well.

"There is no merit whatsoever to this filing," Disney said in a statement. "The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic."

An attack on her character goes to show the mistreatment that women face in the movie industry on a frequent and consistent basis.

This is all coming from the company that reopened their theme parks at the midst of the pandemic.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, it certainly stands to be a symbolic lawsuit for actresses and all women in the workplace.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and relationships.