Disney CEO Defends Disney+ Movie Releases amid Scarlett Johansson Lawsuit: 'We Value Flexibility'

The company’s CEO Bob Chapek said distribution of future Disney movies would continue to be made “on a film-by-film basis”

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

Disney CEO Bob Chapek is standing by the company's hybrid movie release model amid Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit.

During an earnings call on Thursday, 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, 36, or Black Widow by name, 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."

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

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

Later in the call, Chapek revealed Disney has "entered into hundreds of talent arrangements" that have "by and large gone very smoothly," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Just like what we've done many times before, we've found ways to fairly compensate our talent so that, no matter what, everyone feels satisfied," he said.

Chapek's comments come two weeks after Johansson, who has starred in Marvel movies since 2010's Iron Man, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles alleging Disney breached her contract when it released Black Widow on Disney+ at the same time that it was released in movie theaters.

In the lawsuit obtained by PEOPLE, Johansson said her Black Widow contract with Disney's Marvel Entertainment was for a guaranteed exclusive movie-theater release, with the bulk of her salary depending in large part on the film's box-office performance.

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In a statement made after the filing was made public, a Disney spokesperson for the company said, "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."

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"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.

Johansson's attorney John Berlinski said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, "It's no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company's stock price — and that it's hiding behind COVID-19 as a pretext to do so. But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court."

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

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