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Time’s Up, ReFrame and Women In Film Call Out Disney for ‘Gendered Character Attack’ on Scarlett Johansson

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Photo Credit: Scarlett Johansson speaking at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California. - Gage Skidmore - CC 3.0 SA

Time’s Up, ReFrame, and Women In Film released a statement on Saturday that criticised Disney for its “gendered character attack” on Scarlett Johansson, after the media giant responded to the actor’s lawsuit by calling it “sad and distressing”.

The joint statement from the organisations advocating gender equality expressed dismay over Disney for characterizing Johansson as “insensitive or selfish for defending her contractual business rights”.

“This gendered character attack has no place in a business disputes and contributes to an environment in which women and girls are perceived as less able than men to protect their own interests without facing ad hominem criticism”, said the statement.

Scarlett Johansson, who plays the role of Russian spy Natasha Romanoff also known as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, filed a lawsuit against Disney over breach of contract after the company released the Marvel superhero film Black Widow simultaneously on Disney+ and theatres.

In a Wall Street Journal report, the actor said her agreement with Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment came with the guarantee that the film would have an exclusive theatrical release, with the box-office performance determining her salary. She alleged that the simultaneous release was an intentional breach of the agreement in order to prevent her from realising “the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”

In response, Disney said that Johansson’s suit had no merit and added it was “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”. The company added that it “fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.”

However, the WSJ quoted a person familiar with Johansson’s contract as saying the Disney+ release of the film is projected to cost the actor more than $50 million.

Black Widow released in select countries such as the UK and the US, among others. It is yet to be released theatrically in India and has not premiered on Disney+ Hotstar.

The film, based on Johansson’s character, opened to a weekend collection of $80 million at the US box office, $78 million in international box office, and over $60 million in Disney+ Premier Access consumer spend globally, as per Disney’s report. The film’s performance, however, declined over the following weekends.