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Disney’s attack on Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow lawsuit is incredibly gendered


By Jennifer McShane
09th Sep 2021
Disney’s attack on Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow lawsuit is incredibly gendered

Since Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney for allegedly violating an agreement to exclusively release Black Widow in theaters, a vicious legal feud has erupted between the actor and the Marvel Studios' parent company. It's hard not to think that this wouldn't be the case if Johansson were a man.

The actress claims that the simultaneous release of the film on the Disney+ streaming service – an unforeseen decision made to allow viewers to watch safely at home during the pandemic –  was not part of the original negotiations and therefore allowed the studio to cut her out of her fair share.

It was noticed when Johansson stepped away from any promotion for the movie – unusual for a huge blockbuster – and her reported pregnancy was thought to be the reason.

Disney responded last week by releasing a statement that called Johansson’s complaint “sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

One has to wonder if they’d say the same if Johansson was a man, rightfully, taking action over a breach of a legally binding contract between two parties.

The company also made public that Johansson received $20 million for her work on the movie – and yes, we’re talking ridiculous money here, but it’s still not on par with what say, Robert Downey Jr earned for his leading role in Iron Man, which was over $40 million.


Women’s groups from Women in Film, ReFrame, and Time’s Up are now speaking out in support of Johansson, criticising Disney’s statement for presenting the “gendered” image of Johansson as selfish and demanding for wanting to be paid what she says she’s owed. In a joint statement, the aforementioned groups called Disney’s statement a “gendered character attack.”

Stereotype 

Disney’s comments play into a stereotype that women have been fighting for years – that to simply stand up and demand what we are worth is wrong. How often have women in the industry been branded as “difficult” for not smiling and going along with it? Look at what has become of Britney Spears‘ life and career despite her trying to demand the most basic of rights? Silence ultimately enables usually powerful men to get away with things leaving a trail of damage in their wake.

Sure it’s a pandemic and we are not of the universe that Johansson is, but it would still be too easy to ignore a multi-billion company like Disney. She has started a ball rolling which may have positive repercussions for the gender disparity that still exists for women in Hollywood – someone has to.

Since Johansson took legal action against Disney last week, Emma Stone, star of the recent Disney film Cruella, is also reportedly “weighing her options,” as her movie also released on the corporation’s streaming service alongside its theatrical release. Emily Blunt is reported to be doing the same with the release of her latest film. Many stars have come out in support of Johansson, including her Avengers co-star Benedict Cumberbatch who said changing shifts in the landscape had to be taken into account.

“It’s sad what’s going on between the lawyers. Just the verbiage and the accusations of, ‘Put it in a global pandemic context.’ The whole thing’s just a bit of a mess,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re trying to understand what the revenue streams should be for artists that contribute to the billion-dollar business that is Disney. And it has to be contractualised.”