Disney CEO Defends Company amid Scarlett Johansson Lawsuit: Talent Is Our 'Most Important Asset'

Bob Chapek said Disney has "had a long history of having very symbiotic and cooperative deals with talent and we will continue to"

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Bob Chapek; Scarlett Johansson . Photo: getty (2)

Disney CEO Bob Chapek is addressing the company's future amid its Scarlett Johansson lawsuit following Black Widow's release in theaters and on Disney+, which the actress alleged breached its contract with her.

On Tuesday, Chapek spoke at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference where he noted Disney "has had a long history of having very symbiotic and cooperative deals with talent and we will continue to," according to Deadline.

While Chapek didn't name Johansson or the lawsuit, he did say, "Certainly the world is changing and the talent deals going forward will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing."

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"We're in a moment of time where films were envisioned under one understanding about what the world would be because frankly, it hadn't changed much," he added.

A spokesperson for Disney did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Chapek said film deals "made three or four years ago" were "cut three or four years ago."

"Then they get launched in the middle of a global pandemic where that pandemic itself is accelerating a second dynamic, which is this changing consumer behavior," Chapek said, according to the outlet. "So we're sort of putting a square peg in a round hole right now where we've got a deal conceived under a certain set of conditions, that actually results in a movie that is being released in a completely different set of conditions."

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Chapek said the moviegoing experience will be taken into consideration when Disney approaches "future talent deals."

"But right now we have this sort of middle position where we're trying to do right by talent, I think the talent is trying to do right by us, and we're just figuring out our way to bridge the gap," he said. "Ultimately we believe our talent is our most important asset, and we'll continue to believe that, and as we always have, we'll compensate them fairly per the terms of the contract that they agreed to us with."

In July, Johansson sued Disney for breach of contract after the company released Black Widow in movie theaters and on Disney+ simultaneously.

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A Disney spokesperson for the company replied to the lawsuit in a statement saying, "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."

"Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson's contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date," the statement continued.

Disney faced backlash from Johansson's agent Bryan Lourd as well as multiple women's groups in Hollywood, such as Time's Up, ReFrame and Women in Film, who called the company's response to the actress' lawsuit "a gendered character attack" in a joint statement.

In August, Disney attempted to move the lawsuit to binding arbitration, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE. Arbitration is the confidential process "where disputing parties agree that one or several individuals can make a decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments," per the American Bar Association.

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Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow (2021). Film Frame/Marvel Studios 2020

In response to Disney's filing, Johansson's attorney John Berlinski said in a statement, "After initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in a confidential arbitration."

During an earnings call on Aug. 12, Chapek spoke about the dual releases of films in movie theaters and on Disney+, telling Wall Street analysts, "We value flexibility in being able to make last-minute calls," according to Deadline.

Chapek, who did not mention Johansson or Black Widow by name, also said, "Certainly when we planned we didn't anticipate the resurgence of COVID."

He added that he and former CEO Bob Iger, who now serves as chairman of the board at Disney, "determined" the dual-release plan for several of this year's movies "was the right strategy to enable us to reach the broadest possible audience."

Chapek also reiterated that "distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis. We will continue to utilize all options going forward."

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