As Disney attempts to push the case out of court, the Marvel star's lawyer blasted the studio's "misconduct" and "misogynistic attack" on Johansson.

Black Widow's latest fight is ramping up. Scarlett Johansson's legal battle with Disney escalated on Friday, as the studio officially filed to move the Marvel star's lawsuit out of court and take the dispute behind closed doors.

Johansson filed suit against the Walt Disney Company last month, alleging that the studio breached her contract by releasing Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time. Her complaint argues that Disney bilked her out of millions of dollars by using the film to promote its streaming service, depriving Johansson of compensation "based largely on 'box office' receipts."

In a late court filing Friday night, Disney slammed Johansson's lawsuit and demanded the case be moved to arbitration, in which the studio and the actress would resolve the matter outside of a public court. The move comes as no great surprise, as Disney executives were reportedly furious that Johansson took the conflict public in the first place.

In the filing, Disney took aim at Periwinkle Entertainment, the company through which Johansson negotiated her contract and the official plaintiff in the case. Disney's motion argues that Periwinkle agreed to resolve all disputes "'arising out of, in connection with, or relating to' Scarlett Johansson's acting services for Black Widow" through arbitration, and accuses Johansson of legal chicanery to attempt to take the dispute to court.

Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson in 'Black Widow'
| Credit: Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios

"The plain and expansive language of the arbitration agreement easily encompasses Periwinkle's Complaint," Disney's motion states. "In a futile effort to evade this unavoidable result (and generate publicity through a public filing), Periwinkle excluded Marvel as a party to this lawsuit –– substituting instead its parent company Disney under contract-interference theories. But longstanding principles do not permit such gamesmanship."

It's important to note that Johansson's contract was with Marvel, not Disney, but the actress opted not to name Marvel in her lawsuit. Her complaint argues that Disney forced Marvel to breach her contract, which she says promised an exclusively theatrical release for Black Widow, and "overrul[ed] Marvel's wishes to comply with it."

In the motion for arbitration, Disney argues, "Periwinkle's two causes of action are entirely dependent on its untenable claim that Marvel breached the Periwinkle-Marvel contract by releasing Black Widow simultaneously in theaters and on Premier Access on Disney+. The contract does not mandate theatrical distribution –– let alone require that any such distribution be exclusive."

The motion adds that "Periwinkle's claims that Marvel breached the Agreement and Disney induced that breach or otherwise interfered with the Agreement have no merit," echoing Disney's previous statement that the lawsuit has "no merit whatsoever." That earlier statement also accused Johansson of "callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," and revealed that she had been paid $20 million for the film.

Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson in 'Black Widow'
| Credit: Marvel Studios

Disney's statement quickly sparked controversy, with advocacy organizations Women In Film, ReFrame, and Time's Up calling the response a "gendered character attack" on Johansson. The actress's lawyer, John Berlinski, went a step further in a statement provided to EW on Saturday, slamming the response as "a misogynistic attack" and criticizing Disney's motion for arbitration.

"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," said Berlinski. "Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public? Because it knows that Marvel's promises to give Black Widow a typical theatrical release 'like its other films' had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn't cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney+ subscriptions. Yet that is exactly what happened — and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it."

Black Widow recently became the highest-grossing film at the domestic box office since the pandemic began, with $179.3 million. In its motion on Friday, Disney revealed that the film had also grossed "more than $125 million in streaming and download retail receipts," a rare disclosure of PVOD earnings.

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