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SAG-AFTRA accuses Disney of ‘gender-shaming and bullying’ in Scarlett Johansson fight

Scarlett Johansson in "Black Widow" looks stern before a background of smoldering vehicles.
Scarlett Johansson in “Black Widow.” The actors union SAG-AFTRA criticized Walt Disney’s reaction to Johansson’s lawsuit against the Burbank-based studio.
(Marvel Studios)

Hollywood’s biggest union has waded into the fight over profits between Scarlett Johansson and Walt Disney.

The president of SAG-AFTRA, which represents more than 160,000 actors and performers, criticized the response of the Burbank-based studio to Johansson’s lawsuit over its release strategy of her “Black Widow” movie.

“Disney should be ashamed of themselves for resorting to tired tactics of gender-shaming and bullying,” outgoing SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement Friday. “Actors must be compensated for their work according to their contracts.”

Disney had no immediate response to the statement.

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Last week, Johansson accused Disney of breaching its contract by debuting the big-budget Marvel Studios superhero movie on Disney+ and in theaters at the same time, saying it decreased her compensation, which was largely linked to movie ticket sales.

The move escalates bubbling tensions between A-list stars and the media companies using their movies to grow streaming services. Recently AMC Networks paid $200 million to settle a lawsuit over streaming and profits from “The Walking Dead,” while WarnerMedia paid $200 million to make good on deals with creators after it shifted many of its movies to streaming on HBO Max, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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“Scarlett Johansson is shining a white-hot spotlight on the improper shifts in compensation that companies are attempting to slip by talent as distribution models change,” Carteris said. “Nobody in any field of work should fall victim to surprise reductions in expected compensation. It is unreasonable and unjust. Disney and other content companies are doing very well and can certainly live up to their obligations to compensate the performers whose art and artistry are responsible for the corporation’s profits.”

Carteris’ comments follow those of the star’s agent, Bryan Lourd, who also made the unusual move of speaking out against Disney.

Johansson’s filing said Disney broke a promise to give “Black Widow” a full, exclusive theatrical release “in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”

Disney called the suit meritless. It went on to say Johansson’s suit showed “callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Disney said it complied with her contract and, in a rare move, revealed the A-lister’s pay, saying, “The release of ‘Black Widow’ on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”

The criticism had a gendered tone that was deeply concerning to SAG-AFTRA, the union said.

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“Women are not ‘callous’ when they stand up and fight for fair pay — they are leaders and champions for economic justice,” Carteris said. “Women have been victimized by pay inequity for decades, and they have been further victimized by comments like those in Disney’s press statements. These sorts of attacks have no place in our society and SAG-AFTRA will continue to defend our members from all forms of bias.”


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