Disney files motion to move ‘Black Widow’ suit to closed-door arbitration, calling Scarlett Johansson’s attempts to publicize it ‘gamesmanship’

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Disney filed for arbitration in lawsuit involving Scarlett Johansson, star of Marvel's 'Black Widow.'
  • Disney filed a motion Friday to move Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit to arbitration in New York.
  • Disney attorneys said Johansson and her legal team skirted around a 2019 arbitration agreement.
  • Johansson's attorneys responded that Disney filed the motion due to fear of public litigation.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Disney struck back against "Black Widow" star Scarlett Johansson and her attorneys, filing a motion to move the ongoing lawsuit between the two parties into arbitration late Friday night, Variety first reported.

According to the motion viewed by Insider, Disney alleges Periwinkle Entertainment Inc., Johansson's entertainment company, violated an agreement that all claims regarding and related to Johansson's work on "Black Widow" would be submitted confidentially to Disney in New York.

"In a futile effort to evade [arbitration] (and generate publicity through a public filing), Periwinkle excluded Marvel as a party to this lawsuit--substituting instead its parent company Disney under contract-interference theories," Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli said in the motion.

Petrocelli went on to call the efforts of Johansson and her attorneys to publicize the lawsuit "gamesmanship," according to the motion.

The motion says that Disney made good on its promise to premiere the picture on "no less than 1,500 screens," saying that the film ultimately debuted on more than 30,000 screens in July and refuting Johansson's claims of interference and breach of contract.

"After initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in a confidential arbitration," John Berlinski, attorney for Scarlett Johansson, told Insider.

Johansson took landmark action earlier this month in publicly suing Disney, the parent company of Marvel Studios that produced "Black Widow." Johansson claimed in her initial suit that the decision to release the film simultaneously in theaters and on Disney's streaming platform, Disney+, breached her contract and compromised her total box-office earnings.

"Black Widow" hauled $158 million in its global box-office opening weekend, excluding streaming earnings. It performed relatively well for a film released during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not nearly hitting Marvel Studios' pre-pandemic numbers. Johansson's agents also accused Disney of trying to "weaponize her success" by revealing her earnings for the movie.

"Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public?" Berlinski continued, speaking with Insider. "Because it knows that Marvel's promises to give Black Widow a typical theatrical release 'like its other films' had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn't cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney+ subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened - and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it."

Directors, producers, and actors alike have taken issue publicly with the way streaming giants, like Disney+ and Hbo Max, have capitalized on the pandemic-driven demand fueling so-called streaming wars. Johansson's suit also paves the way for new studio-talent deals and relationships moving forward.

Berlinksi previously told Insider that the lawsuit won't be the "last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts."

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