Earlier this year, a group of people working with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and other writing guilds formed the “Disney Must Pay Task Force.” This was the result of a public disagreement between the studio and Star Wars and Alien tie-in novelist Alan Dean Foster over Disney holding back on royalty payments. Their latest push isn’t to assist another writer — but to call out Disney’s ongoing legal tussle with Marvel’s Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson.
Over the summer it emerged that Johansson was taking the Walt Disney Company to court, alleging that its film studio breached her contract for the solo Black Widow movie. This came after multiple delays from its original 2020 release window and the superhero title premiering simultaneously in theatres and as part of Disney+’s Premier Access service. After multiple public back-and-forths in which Disney accused the actress of “callously” leveraging the covid-19 pandemic against the poor little megacorporation, the House of Mouse is now looking at private arbitration instead of a trial. The very public fight sparked a flurry of discussion about blockbuster actor contracts in the age of streaming debuts.
Disney’s attempts to move the debate away from the public eye, while unsurprising, haven’t stopped organisations and public figures from putting their support behind Johansson’s lawsuit. Last night, the Disney Must Pay Task Force — the SFWA’s initiative for seeking proper royalty payments for writers of licensed material across comics and books like Alien, Star Wars, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer prior to Disney’s acquisition of those licenses — released a statement supporting the actress.
“The #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force calls on Disney to respect Scarlett Johansson’s professional and artistic work on the film Black Widow,” the statement provided to press begins. “The first way to respect Ms. Johansson is to pay her properly and not use unethical contractual manoeuvres to avoid payment. This is not the first time the Task Force has seen Disney attempt such twisting of contractual language.”
The group has already made significant gains in seeking proper treatment for writers: Foster revealed he had settled his situation with Disney earlier this year. The company had previously refused to pay him royalties for Star Wars and Alien movie tie-in novelisations (as well as the first Star Wars expanded universe novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye) written before the giant acquired both Lucasfilm and Fox, despite the fact the company has since re-released some of that work under new branding.
In May, Boom Studios — which gained the licence to create Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics from Disney in 2019, after its acquisition of Fox terminated a prior deal with Dark Horse — lent its support to the SFWA, announcing it would help affected writers liaise with Disney to seek the royalties they were owed.
The task force’s latest statement serves as a reminder that it’s not just writers that Disney’s contracts may have short-shrifted, and that this is a fight in which workers, regardless of their relationship with the company, should stand together. “The #DisneyMustPay Task Force is working to ensure that contracts are honoured for all creators.
This includes writers, actors, illustrators, and other artists,” the statement concludes. “Disney has a pattern of behaviour that forces creators to jump through unnecessary and tedious hoops to receive their agreed-upon payments. They continue finding new ways to avoid paying people for their creativity and honouring their contracts. Disney must pay all creators for their work, and the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force is leading the way to make sure that happens.”
As a reminder, the Walt Disney Company’s last estimated net worth was $US122.18 ($166) billion.