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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
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

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

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Teaming up. MacKenzie Scott and Melinda French Gates teamed up to give $40 million to four organizations that promote gender equality—Building Women’s Equality through Strengthening the Care Infrastructure, Changing the Face of Tech, Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate and The Future is Indigenous Womxn. Bloomberg

- A new twist. Simone Biles has likely taught us all a new term: the twisties. It's what occurred to the gymnast during her first vault in the team all-around at the Olympics; she essentially lost control of her body mid-flight. The condition is well-known among gymnasts who say it's a terrifying—and potentially dangerous—experience. Washington Post

- Statues—or bust. U.S. Senators have introduced a bipartisan bill to add statues of Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the halls of the U.S. Capitol where just 14 of the 266 sculptures feature women. "Obviously they are pioneers, and I think it would send a great message to all the young girls who go through the Capitol," says Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R–W.V.). NPR

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Britney's army. Once on the fringes of pop culture, the campaign to free Britney Spears from her conservatorship is now fully mainstream, thanks in part to fan accounts that have the power to mobilize thousands on social media. “This is about the human condition. It’s a human rights issue. It’s a disability rights issue. It’s a civil rights issue,” says Angela Rojas, a lawyer behind the account @BritneyLawArmy. New York Times

- Crypto promised land. Caitlin Long, founder and CEO of “crypto bank” startup Avanti Financial Group and an alum of Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, has lobbied the passage of 24 crypto-friendly laws in Wyoming, giving the state a reputation as a cryptocurrency promised land. Critics, meanwhile, see the measures as creating a sort of Wild West that risks financial instability down the road. Fortune

- Fighting a culture war. This story better introduces us to Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia and UCLA and a mastermind of critical race theory, which has become a weapon in America's culture wars. She spends a lot of time correcting misinterpretations of her work. “You cannot fix a problem you cannot name,” Crenshaw says of the campaigns to outlaw teaching critical race theory. “You cannot address a history that you’re unwilling to learn.” Vanity Fair

ON MY RADAR

Opinion: Women Spac founders are good for finance Financial Times

Lucy Liu gets personal on fame, art and standing up for herself on the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ set L.A. Times

The unexpected summer of Lady Gaga’s ‘Chromatica’ WSJ

‘They thought I was dead’: Haitian president’s widow recounts assassination New York Times

PARTING WORDS

"There was a point in time where I just didn't think I would ever get here. I'm super proud of myself for sticking with it and believing in myself."

- American Suni Lee on winning gold in the women's gymnastics individual all-around.

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