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Disney officials have insisted there is "no merit" to Scarlett Johansson's breach of contract lawsuit over the release of her movie Black Widow.
The Avengers actress, who has played Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in the company's Marvel films since 2010, filed a lawsuit on Thursday in which she alleged that the media giant breached her contract by releasing her standalone movie on the Disney+ streaming service at the same time as cinemas.
In the filing, she claimed that her contract stipulated that the film would only be released in theatres, and the new release strategy cost her millions of dollars as she was allegedly promised a cut of box office takings.
Responding to the legal action in a statement to multiple outlets, a Disney spokesman called Johansson's claims "sad and distressing".
"There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," the company spokesman stated, before claiming that her earnings have been "significantly enhanced" by the simultaneous cinema and streaming release.
Johansson's lawyer John Berlinski told Variety that his client's lawsuit could change how movie stars are compensated for a film's performance in the streaming age.
"It's no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney Plus to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company's stock price - and that it's hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so," he said. "But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court."
Black Widow, which was released earlier this month, followed the pattern for other films that have been released during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was shown in theatres but made available for purchase for a premium fee on Disney+.
On its opening weekend, Black Widow raked in $80 million (£57.35 million) from U.S. theatregoers and $60 million (£43 million) from at-home views. It is currently on track to be one of Marvel's lowest-grossing releases.