Emma Stone’s decision to move forward with Disney outside of a legal battle is different, yet similarly beneficial to Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit. Disney is at the center of major controversies within the industry as actors begin to counterattack the bad faith of their contracts in the context of pandemic releases. Both Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson, two of Hollywood’s most bankable actresses, are taking matters into their own hands as they combat Disney for unfairly treating their compensation through simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access streaming releases.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant movie theaters shutting down and, even for those that stayed open, lower audience attendance. In response, studios decided to either delay their movies’ releases, move to sole streaming debuts, or introduce dual streaming and theatrical releases. In Disney’s case, many blockbuster pictures like Cruella starring Emma Stone and Black Widow starring Scarlett Johannson were released on Disney+ for an additional fee while being released in theaters at the same time, though their actors weren’t compensated for the difference in revenue for streaming.
Responses to Disney’s contractual exclusions of earnings for streaming and inevitably lower compensation for theatrical releases have differed, most apparently in those between Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone. As Disney moves forward in a world where sole theatrical releases like that of Shang-Chi may not be the most financially viable option, actors are in a position to leverage their worth for better deals in contracts that counterbalance dual releases.
Following Black Widow’s release, Scarlett Johansson made headlines at the end of July for suing Disney, claiming monetary losses from Black Widow’s dual theatrical and streaming releases. Johansson’s lawsuit was based on the claim that Disney acted in bad faith for not disclosing a simultaneous streaming release during Black Widow’s theatrical run, which negatively impacted her contract box office bonus. Her original contract for Black Widow stated the movie would only have a wide-screen release, though Disney premiered it both in theaters and through Disney+’s Premier Access.
Disney responded with a cheap bash at Johansson for being insensitive to the atrocities of the COVID-19 pandemic since streaming releases are, on the surface, intended to be ways for individuals to experience movies without exposing themselves to the virus. Johansson’s points in Black Widow‘s lawsuit had nothing to do with saying streaming is overtly bad, she just believes Disney hit her with the short end of the stick by strategically not including streaming in her contract. Black Widow’s box office performance was tied to her compensation, so Johansson lost millions by not receiving profits for the streaming revenue or being recompensed properly for an inevitably lower box office haul.
When Scarlett Johannson announced her lawsuit against Disney, rumors sparked that female leads in Disney’s pandemic-released features like Emma Stone and Emily Blunt would also be taking a whack at the company. With Cruella also being subject to lower box office numbers from a simultaneous Disney+ streaming release, Emma Stone was in a similar position to fight Disney for retroactive compensation. Johannson likely won’t be working with Disney again anytime soon, but Emma Stone just revealed she’s returning to work with the company for Cruella 2. Instead of going into a legal battle, Stone is using Johansonn’s lawsuit as leverage to get a better deal with Disney for Cruella 2, knowing Disney would rather shovel out a few million more for the actress than take the bad press and millions in legal fees for another lawsuit. This way, Stone can get much more than she was originally going to be offered without severing ties to Disney, which holds a lot of IPs that are appealing to actors.
The difference between Johansson’s response and those of Stone and possibly Emily Blunt is that Johansson was at the end of her Disney franchise character’s run while Stone and Blunt’s are just beginning. Scarlett Johansson needed to fight Disney as aggressively as possible to recuperate her losses considering there was no real way for her to move forward in getting a better deal for a future Natasha Romanoff project. Her character is already dead within the MCU and Johansson is ready to move on, so she might as well get the money she was cheated out of. On the other hand, while 101 Dalmations projects are obviously not new to Disney’s catalog, the live-action origin story of Cruella de Vil – and especially the magic behind Emma Stone’s persona – is.
Emma Stone is already slated to star in Disney’s Cruella sequel, which could still do wonders for her career moving forward. Stone not suing Disney doesn’t mean she isn’t supporting Johansson’s decision, it simply means she’s doing what’s best for her own career – same as Johansson. Both of their actions in dealing with Disney are right for their respective situations, and both are changing the way actors can be proponents of their own worth to a major corporation. Had there not been interest in Cruella 2, Stone may have followed in Johansson’s lawsuit actions; had there been interest in another Black Widow prequel, Johansson may have decided to act similarly to Stone. The situations are very different with respect to their roles in Disney’s future, and both women acted in ways that benefited their corresponding circumstances.
While Disney may not be facing another major actress lawsuit, Emma Stone’s decision is certainly not a win for the company. By using Johansson’s lawsuit as leverage, Emma Stone is getting a much better deal out of Disney for Cruella 2 than she would have otherwise, which they’re likely less than happy to be agreeing to. Stone’s return is also setting precedence for other actors to get better deals out of Disney, especially the likes of Emily Blunt who can fight to get more money in the Jungle Cruise sequel. Considering Disney has seen a positive turnaround in revenue for Disney+ Premier Access releases, actors can now use Stone’s deal and Johansson’s lawsuit to put streaming clauses and more beneficial specific bonus terminology in their contracts, all of which would mean Disney getting the short end of the stick. Actors are now in a much higher position of power when battling corporations like Disney for fair compensation thanks to the myriad forms of offense that Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson have set precedence for.