Trouble in the Mouse House 

Last Friday, lawyers at Disney filed a motion to have a-list actor Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against the company moved to private arbitration. 

This is the latest development in a saga which, beginning in late July, is very publicly turning ugly as neither party seems prepared to back down almost a month later. 

Firstly, what is private arbitration? 

“Arbitration is a private process where disputing parties agree that one or several individuals can make a decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments..” 

Meaning that the lawsuit wouldn’t be a public affair going forward. 

John Berlinski, Johansson’s attorney said in a statement, “After initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in confidential arbitration”.  

To understand what prompted such a scathing attack against the Mouse House, it’s important to understand why Johansson took the risky move in suing one of the most powerful entertainment companies in Hollywood. 

A Relationship Turned Sour

The film that initially caused all of the upset, Black Widow, starred Johansson as its titular character and debuted simultaneously in cinemas and on Disney + on July 9th. 

This was where the problems arose. 

In her lawsuit filed on July 29th, Johansson alleged that her contract with Disney was breached when the streaming giant decided against the “traditional” theatre release date that she was promised and released the film on Disney + to be watched at home. 

Johansson’s compensation for the film was to be based largely on “box office” receipts, meaning based off of the money spent in theatres on her film. 

Millions of fans being pulled away from the theatres with the option of watching the film at home equals millions of dollars lost for her. 

Johansson believes that Disney knew about the promises in her contract, but still released the film on their streaming site the same day as in theatre’s anyway. 

A Gendered Character Attack 

In a move that has since been slammed by several female-led groups, Disney responded to this by pointing to COVID, accusing Johansson of endangering people who wish to stay at home to avoid catching the virus. 

“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Disney said in a statement before, controversially, disclosing the actress’ earnings for the project. 

It appears Disney is attempting to paint Johansson as an “unsympathetic diva” simply for demanding her contractual rights, an accusation which doesn’t sit right in a post “me too” era of Hollywood today. 

Many question whether, put in a similar situation, her male counterparts would have received such an attack of character. 

Now, in response to this backlash, an increase of celebrities expressing their support of Johansson and more holes being found in Disney’s argument against her,  the company is now trying to hide behind a private arbitration. 

Is this to ensure their misjudged arguments don’t backfire to such an embarrassing extent again? 

Or are they trying to salvage the reputation of a company whose brand is built on traditional wholesome happiness? 

Whatever the outcome, it’s true to say that the reputation of the House of Mouse has been tarnished forever. 

Photo via Marvel Studios

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