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Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Black Widow’ lawsuit could transform the streaming era

July 30, 2021, 12:57 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Two billionaires team up for gender equality, Simone Biles teaches us about the ‘twisties,’ and Scarlett Johansson looks like she’s borrowing a page from Taylor Swift’s book. Have a relaxing weekend.

– Black Widow’s avenge. The pandemic changed—maybe forever—how movie studios share new films with audiences. But is that a good thing?

Scarlett Johansson, the star of the latest Marvel blockbuster Black Widow, is saying: not so fast. The actor sued Disney yesterday over the Disney+ streaming release of her big-budget movie.

Johansson isn’t arguing that companies like Disney shouldn’t make movies accessible via streaming, especially during a public health crisis. She is saying, however, that her contract with Marvel paid her based on theatrical box office results—and that Disney declined to renegotiate that contract to compensate her equally for streaming purchases. A member of Johansson’s camp says she lost out on as much as $50 million as a result.

Disney hit back late Thursday with a harsh statement: “There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But if Johansson’s claims are true, she likely isn’t the only one this situation has hurt. As movies rapidly moved from theaters to streaming in 2020, what other creatives—writers, animators, editors—without movie-star salaries lost out on income thanks to contracts that prioritized box office results?

With her lawsuit, Johansson is telling Disney both to honor the spirit of her contract and to pay her what she’s worth. The lawsuit reminds me of Taylor Swift’s onetime crusade against Spotify; while the pop star battled for fair compensation for herself, she took every opportunity to remind the tech company that she was fighting for less famous artists to whom every streaming cent mattered.

It remains to be seen whether Johansson’s lawsuit will force major industry players to renegotiate with talent in the shift from traditional distribution to streaming. But if the results of Swift’s Spotify mission provide any hint, there’s a fighting chance.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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