This week, news broke of a lawsuit that appears to be the first of its kind in the COVID-19 era that focuses intently on the concurrent release of a film both in theaters and on a digital streaming platform. According to Variety, Blockbuster Marvel movie star Scarlett Johansson "claims that the Walt Disney Company [Marvel's parent company] cheated her [financially] by releasing "Black Widow" simultaneously on Disney Plus and in theaters." One Hollywood talent agent told Variety, "A lot of other actors are cheering for Scarlett and rooting her on. [...] By doing all of this in public, she might be able to change the rulebook."
According to The Wrap:
"The 'big picture' issue is that Disney has evinced a clear desire to juice its subscription numbers at the expense of box office numbers. This strategy made abundant sense in the time of COVID when theaters were all but shuttered," James Sammataro, a partner at Pryor Cashman LLP, told TheWrap. "However, there is a growing sense that Disney (and similarly situated studios that also own streaming services) do not want actually you to go to a theater if the alternative is that you will sign up for their streaming services... Critically, and perhaps more importantly, the markets are valuing the subscription numbers over the box office numbers."
According to Variety:
Salary disputes between top talent and studios are becoming more commonplace in the streaming era. [...] But most of the haggling took place behind closed doors. Johansson's case is the first to break into open view, rather than being settled quietly, either through negotiation or arbitration.
[...] much will depend on whether Johansson's contract is "ambiguous" - that is, whether it could be read more than one way. If the contract is clear, then so-called "extrinsic" evidence - such as what industry figures generally understand certain terms to mean - would not become a factor.
"As a general rule, you don't delve into industry custom and standard when the contractual language is plain and unmistakable," said James Sammataro, co-chair of the media and entertainment group at Pryor Cashman LLP.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.