'Disney should be ashamed': Sag-Aftra president stands up for Scarlett Johansson

'Black Widow' star has sued Disney for breach of contract after the Marvel film was simultaneously released in cinemas as well as on streaming services

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff in 'Black Widow'. Marvel Studios
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The president of the powerful Hollywood labour union Sag-Aftra has come out in support of Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson in her lawsuit against Disney.

“Disney should be ashamed of themselves for resorting to tired tactics of gender-shaming and bullying,” Gabrielle Carteris said on Friday.

“We are deeply concerned by the gendered tone of Disney’s criticism of Ms Johansson. Women are not ‘callous’ when they stand up and fight for fair pay – they are leaders and champions for economic justice.”

In July, after Johansson filed a lawsuit claiming Disney’s decision to release the Marvel film Black Widow in cinemas as well as on streaming had cost her millions of dollars, the company fired back, saying there was no “merit” to the suit.

Disney also criticised the actress for what it said was a “callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic," and publicly revealed her $20 million salary for the film.

The company's response was slammed by a number of Hollywood organisations including the Creative Artists Agency.

Bryan Lourd, the co-chairman of CAA, accused Disney of attacking the actress's character "in an attempt to weaponise her success as an artist and a businesswoman.”

"Disney’s direct attack on her character and all else they implied is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades," Lourd said.

Women In Film, ReFrame and Time’s Up also released a joint statement.

“While we take no position on the business issues in the litigation between Scarlett Johansson and the Walt Disney Company, we stand firmly against Disney’s recent statement which attempts to characterise Johansson as insensitive or selfish for defending her contractual business rights,” their statement read.

A number of Hollywood organisations have stood behind Scarlett Johansson in her ongoing lawsuit against Disney. Marvel Studios

“This gendered character attack has no place in a business dispute and contributes to an environment in which women and girls are perceived as less able than men to protect their own interests without facing ad hominem criticism.”

In her statement on Friday, Sag-Aftra president Carteris also weighed in on what she called a bias against women in Hollywood when it comes to pay parity.

“Women have been victimised by pay inequity for decades, and they have been further victimised 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,” she said.

“Actors must be compensated for their work according to their contracts. 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.”

Sag-Aftra, a merger between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, represents more than 160,000 actors and other talents working in the media industry.

After its release was delayed by more than a year because of Covid-19, Black Widow debuted to a pandemic-best of $80 million in North America and $78 million from international theatres in July, but cinema grosses declined sharply after that.

A week later, Disney said the film had earned $60 million on Disney+ worldwide, in addition to $158 million at the global box office.

In her lawsuit, Johansson claimed Disney had breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings after the movie was also streamed on Disney+ for a $30 rental. Johansson, one of Hollywood's biggest and top-paid stars, was entitled to a percentage of box office receipts.

Updated: August 08, 2021, 7:50 AM