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Legal Shaming - Will Disney Become The New Warner Bros.?


by Reena Sehgal, Esq.



In a pandemic world, where many are struggling to simply pay rent, a legal battle where you are arguing over money after being paid $20M dollars may seem absurd. However, the fact of the matter is that everyone has the freedom to negotiate a contract, and enjoy the security of knowing its terms will be honored. It’s the principle at the core of our transactional legal system. According to published reports, Scarlet Johansson’s contract with Disney for Black Widow called for an “exclusive” theatrical release, which was tied to her overall compensation. Disney agreed to those terms, so it has a legal obligation to fulfill its half of the bargain. It is as simple as that. If a change of terms was necessary, say because of force majeure, the studio should have addressed its pre-existing contractual obligations and attempted to re-negotiate. Instead, Disney chose to attempt to publicly attack and shame Johansson for doing what anyone suffering from the experience of a lack of the benefit of a bargain would do – attempt to enforce their negotiated deal. Students of Hollywood legal history know that Johansson is not the first female actor to take action against a male-dominated Hollywood studio. The de Havilland Decision, based on the 1944 legal action taken against Warner Bros. by leading actress Olivia de Havilland’s, had huge ramifications. It essentially ended the studio system by releasing actors’ from their onerous personal service agreements. Eight years earlier, Golden Age superstar Bette Davis also sued Warner Bros. in the UK, regarding the quality of her roles and autonomy over them. At the time, the studio’s legal counsel engaged in a public shaming of Davis, stating “[Davis] is a rather naughty young lady. What she wants is more money.” Sadly, Davis lost the legal case in the UK, but ultimately won in the court of public opinion in the U.S. She was the first actor to receive 10 Academy Award nominations, and enjoyed her greatest box office success after the verdict. She also received the admiration of her industry peers for her David-and-Goliath stance, and became the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Disney is currently taking a position that is strikingly similar to Warner Bros.’ against Davis, which in today’s political atmosphere is highly inappropriate. Disney’s statements are simply a disappointing attempt at publicly embarrassing Johannson through the release of her guaranteed compensation — violating her privacy — and outlandish, unfounded statements dubbing her as “insensitive to the global COVID pandemic.” Johannson should be commended for taking action against a studio giant who is trying to avert consequences for failing to meet their obligations under a well negotiated agreement. Defaming and degrading remarks should have no place in a legitimate action for breach of contract


Reena Sehgal at Sehgal Law PC is committed to helping you make and execute the decisions that are right for you. Ms. Sehgal will utilize her thorough experience with contracts to help you navigate your way through the process, which can be filled with twists, turns and complexities. For more information on Sehgal Law PC’s services don’t hesitate to call 818-582-2421 or email reena@sehgallawpc.com. And follow Sehgal Law PC on Facebook and Instagram!

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