Here are some headlines from the end of last week:
Black Widow Scarlett Johansson lawsuit: Actress’s agent criticizes Disney for directly attacking her character and leaving talent out of streaming profit equation Deadline
Groups denounce Disney’s Scarlett Johansson response as “attack on gendered characters” Yahoo
Women In Film, ReFrame, Times Up Convict Disney Over Gender-Based Character Attack On Scarlett Johansson In Black Widow Lawsuit Deadline
Disney has just shocked the industry, moviegoers, Marvel fans, Scarlett Johansson lovers and media watchdogs with its pointless and mean response to Johanssons’ lawsuit over Black Widows changed distribution plans.
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Instead of taking the high road in their public response to what is essentially a business but important financial issue, they have decided to give up and get bad. And in doing so, they not only angered industry leaders like Johanssons’ agents at CAA, action movie fans and women’s rights defenders, they seriously damaged their reputation with their off-brand behavior, not similar to that of Disney. Mean and mean-spirited ad hominem attacks are just not what audiences expect from Disney or Marvel. They’re supposed to be the good guys, after all.
Damaging the Disney brand
Disney: what were you thinking?
Responding to Johannsons lawsuit claiming that Disney broke its contract regarding the distribution of the films by deciding to release the film simultaneously on their streaming service as well as in theaters, then refusing to renegotiate and thus seriously damaging its total compensation for starring in the hit film that uniquely features two female heroines Johansson and Florence Pugh Disney went way beyond the formula. This lawsuit is completely without merit, and we are eager to prove it in court.
Instead, they used their response to demean and shame her in a way that seems pretty sexist to a lot of people inside and outside of the industry.
Specifically, they said, as reported in Deadline:
The trial is particularly sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic … What?
Then they revealed for the first time that she was already making $ 20 million on the film, apparently seeking to shame the actress by showing how much money she makes from a blockbuster movie. Ah good?
Character assassination with sexist overtones
In a movement that Times Up, Reframe and Women in Film call for a gendered character attack, Disney manages to get over the fact that male action superstars like Robert Downey Jr., Ryan Reynolds, Duanne Johnson, and Will Smith regularly make $ 20-35 million per movie, with an extra box office share. But I guess women are still not supposed to get paid like men in Hollywood?
(See the Forbes 2020 article on celebrity salaries which asks Where are the women in Hollywood? And replies: A dozen actors and actresses made $ 624 million this year, but Hollywoods winning the elite remains a boys club …)
The CAA strikes back
Disney’s very derogatory statements angered powerful CAA agents enough that its agent and CAA President Bryan Lourd answered the next day with
I’m talking about the Walt Disney Company statement that was released in response to the lawsuit filed against them yesterday by our client Scarlett Johansson. They shamelessly and falsely accused Ms Johansson of being insensitive to the global COVID pandemic, in an attempt to make her come across as someone they and I know she is not.
Scarlett has partnered with Disney on nine films, which have grossed billions for Disney and its shareholders. The company included her salary in its press release in an attempt to arm her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if it was something she should be ashamed of. Scarlett is extremely proud of the work that she and all of Marvel’s actors, writers, directors, producers and the creative team have been involved in for over a decade.
This lawsuit was filed following Disney’s decision to knowingly breach Scarletts’ contract. They very deliberately shifted the revenue stream and profits to the Disney + side of society, leaving the artistic and financial partners out of their new equation. That’s it, pure and simple.
Disney’s direct attack on her character and all that it implied is underneath the business that many of us in the creative community have successfully worked with for decades ….
Battle of titans in real life
So it looks like there is going to be a battle of titans both on and off the screen. The financial stakes are of course considerable. It has been reported that Disney’s move could cost Johansson $ 50 million in his contract box office share. And that sets a precedent.
But the worst thing, for Disney and the general public, is that Disney felt entitled to go after Johansson, one of their most popular action heroes and one of their only megastars. revolutionary female action by humiliating and humiliating her. Do they find this behavior acceptable? Shouldn’t they be supporting their female action heroes, not denouncing them?
Support brands by staying in the message
Lawsuits happen all the time and they are mostly procedural necessities, handled formally. But any organization is defined as well by its public actions as by its public statements. This is one of the reasons why organizations are so worried about messaging and maintaining the message. Their messages must be aligned with their purpose, their operating philosophy, their reputation and their general interest in matters beyond the financial matters of their stakeholders, and not just their shareholders.
The iconic Disney brand, carefully forged over decades, has generally been healthiness, family values and the good side. If they think that by going so seriously against their main brand, and being sneaky and manipulative about Johanssons pay, they’re going to curry favor with the public, they’ve misjudged the situation. We were talking about equity here, as well as gender equality. And fundamental values.
By underestimating the response of key audiences to their attack dog tactics in the face of what constitutes reasonable objection and legal action, they have damaged their own reputation. We do not yet know how much.
But it’s probably time for Disney, the company, to seriously reassess its public and private positions on fairness, equity and gender equality. And keep their own brand promise.
And, maybe, they have to learn not to play with their female superheroes.
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