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Hollywood Needs to Rethink Compensation for Actors in the New Age of StreamingServices

Updated: May 2, 2023

Scarlett Johannsson

Scarlett Johansson is one of the highest-paid actresses in the film industry. With her character in the Marvel Universe, Black Widow grossed 158 million dollars worldwide, according to Business Insider. Last week it was made public that the award-winning actress is now suing Disney for releasing the highly anticipated film on their streaming service Disney+ and in theaters.

Johansson claims Disney (which owns Marvel) violated her contract by not exclusively releasing the film in theaters. The company instead distributed the film on their streaming service with an extra fee of $30. Johansson claims a large chunk of her salary comes from the title's box office performance. Black Widow grossed over 60 million dollars on Disney+. Sources reported to the Wall Street Journal that Johansson is estimated to have lost out 50 million dollars.

Asked about the lawsuit against the company, a spokesperson stated, “This is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

When asked by Business Insider, Johansson's attorney, John Berlinski, countered this statement by claiming “Disney is hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to increase subscribers. Which thereby boosts the company's stock price.”

This lawsuit could be the first of many. It is no secret that streaming services like Disney+, HBO Max, and Netflix benefited from the ongoing pandemic. With many movie-goers now switching over to streaming in the comfortability of their living rooms. Production companies are now reevaluating the way they push new titles and salaries for their talent.

We live in a day in age where everything has instant accessibility. Streaming services have pushed this ideal with having access to titles with a click of a button. As a society, it would be false to say that after the pandemic, if audiences will gather in a traditional setting by waiting in lines at the theater to see a film.

One solution could be to pay principal actors a flat rate upfront rather than waiting for a film's box office performance to determine their salaries.

Johansson's lawsuit with Disney is launching a conversation that could determine a new era for the film industry and the streaming services alike and encourages other actors to hold monopolies like Disney responsible for their legally binding contracts.

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