Why Does Scarlett Johansson Suing Disney Over Black Widow Matter to Disabled People?
Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit over the money she is owed due to Black Widow's release on Disney+ has implications beyond her own personal paycheck, especially for those who rely on streaming movies for accessibility.
Never has my brand felt so strong as when I came back online after a med-induced nap and found multiple DMs waiting for me all on the topic of "Did you see the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit against Disney for the money she lost because they released Black Widow on streaming???"
By pure luck of timing I had found out about it just before I passed out for a few hours. But all the same thank you, each and every one of you, for recognizing that this particular news event could not have been catered to me more if it had been presented to me by, oh, let's say Tessa Thompson appearing in front of me in a glow of Heavenly yet not migraine inducing light while saying "Are you, TBQ, aware of this current event regarding pop culture which does in fact relate to disability life and could you perhaps write about this event while including at least one mention of history that nobody asked you about but which is still interesting nevertheless?"
To which I say yes, imaginary Tessa Thompson. Yes I can.
(Also take THAT people who say I should have a niche.)
On Going to Movies as Someone With a Disability
I'm going to hit this part first because it's the one I tend to scream the loudest about when discussions about offering same day streaming of movies happens. I'm going to get personal here because - well you've presumably met me by now and also it's my site, so there.
As I've talked about before I am full on capital-D, declared by the government disabled. Part of my disability is agoraphobia. In ye olden days I was able to leave my home and go to movies and even Broadway shows just fine. These days I cannot.
The last movie I was able to see in theaters was Godzilla: King of the Monsters. I went with my dad and my service dog to a matinee in what was essentially an empty theater because my dad and I were among the only people on Earth who wanted to voluntarily see Godzilla: King of the Monsters. (My service dog was neutral on the topic since she wasn't yet familiar with the lore.)
The last movie I wanted to see in a theater was Avengers: Endgame. That one did not happen.
Warning here for a description of anxious thoughts but let me walk you through what trying to go to a theater is like for me.
Now as is a surprise to nobody who reads this site I am a diehard MCU fan. Generally speaking when a Marvel movie came out I was there at 8pm Thursday night of opening weekend ready to watch the latest installment. I was primed for Endgame when it was released. I bought my tickets in advance and everything.
I could not go. I wanted to, believe me I wanted to, but it was not happening.
Endgame was a three hour movie and that wasn't including previews. That also wasn't including the need to get there early to make sure I could secure one of the handicapped seats so that there would be room enough for me and my dog. So we were looking at about four hours of time minimum and that wasn't including trying to find parking.
While I can do brief excursions without my dog, such as to certain doctor appointments where suffice it to say things are awkward enough without an animal in the room, once we go over an hour that's not an option. She's not a pet, she's a medical device. I can't be without her that long anymore than somebody with an oxygen tank could leave that at home for a while.
So the part about getting that handicapped seat with room for me and her was non-negotiable. And since I knew that Endgame would be popular - the difficulty of buying tickets proved it - I knew getting there early enough to secure the seat for us both was also non-negotiable.
Due to various life circumstances I didn't have anybody who could go with me. Which meant that not only would I have to secure this seat but I would have to stay in the seat to make sure that nobody took it from me. Which meant not only a four hour time commitment but a four hour time commitment being stuck in a chair.
What if I needed to go to the bathroom? What if my dog needed to go? What if I had a panic attack and needed to find a quiet spot for her to task and get me out of it? What if I didn't feel well? What if the movie started and then I needed to go to the bathroom and then not only would I be missing part of the movie but then somebody could come in late and take my seat and now I'm having to try to negotiate with somebody in a dark theater while a movie is going on and suddenly I'm the one who's rude because I'm just trying to get my chair back for the needs I actually do have and I'm not trying to bother anybody, I'm not, I just wanted to see a movie that I've been waiting for as long as everybody else has and why does it have to be so long because I can't be trapped in a single place for four hours with no ability to move even an inch and I'm not going to be able to focus on the movie because I have to watch to make sure nobody is trying to take my seat and my dog isn't disturbing anybody even if all she's doing is sleeping but it's possible she could what if somebody near me has allergies and I just want to watch the movie but I can't move and - and - and - and -
Yeah. And that's the short version.
Could not do it. My brain was in full on panic mode. It was like being asked to hold my breath for four hours too. Not happening whatsoever.
So I didn't go. I had my ticket and everything and I did not go. I think I still have the credit on Fandango or whatever website I used to purchase it. Assuming I even had the coherence to cancel the order. I can't remember if I did that either.
Now in my particular circumstance there's the hope that I'll get out of it with medication and therapy. I would prefer to go back to a lifestyle where I'm not trapped in my house. But even so I still have issues that make going to a theater hard, like my chronic migraines. There are also people who have other disabilities which make going to movie theaters difficult because accessibility options like room for a wheelchair don't address their particular needs.
So for us, this is where streaming comes in.
Streaming As Accessibility
Let me get this one out of the way because there's always someone who comes out of the woodwork to say it when I bring the topic up: I know that there are financial and contractual reasons why movies get released to theaters first. I did not land here yesterday from Mars having never heard of this thing you Earth people call "cinema" before. I know. I get it.
But that is a separate issue from whether the concept of moving away from the theater only model would be beneficial to me and people like me, and whether there could be a financial benefit to changing the theater only model as well.
Because here's the thing: I am not going to a movie theater. Period, full stop. So while yes, there are some people who might flip a coin between seeing a movie in a theater vs seeing it at home, I am not one of those people. There is no single movie theater which is getting money out of me when a new flick comes out. In the theater only model, I represent a lost money making opportunity. My cash stays in my pocket.
With a same day streaming model, however, you open up something to me that wasn't there before. I am a moral enough nerd that I'm not going to go on Pirate Bay or whatever (is Pirate Bay even still a thing?) and steal a film. I want to watch a movie legally if that avenue is available to me. Please let me give you my money. I'm happy to do it! This is a fair exchange of goods and services!
The other thing about same day streaming is that it benefits people other than those like me. In disability terms this is known as the Curb-Cut Effect. Curb cut outs are put into place to help people who use wheelchairs, but turn out to have the added benefit of helping people pushing shopping carts, or with baby strollers, and so on.
As someone who is disabled I am one kind of person whose money is never going to the theaters but there are more types out there. Parents of young children, people with busy schedules who might need to stop and start a film, people who work hours that don't allow for going to theaters when they're open, etc. Same day streaming gives them the same benefit of seeing movies opening weekend and gives the studios the benefit of getting that money that otherwise was never ever coming their way.
The other thing is that while I was happy to say okay, that's how the cookie crumbles when movies went theater only because they've always gone theater only, in the past year we've seen that no, they don't have to. There are options that allow for streaming if the studios are forced and/or motivated to make those options happen.
I talk about this more in an article that's coming out next month (shameless plug: Upgrade to a paid subscription to get the advance scoop about that!) but the short version is that as someone with a disability it has been killing me to see how many accommodations suddenly appeared for quarantine which are now being snatched away as quarantine lifts. Because what this tells me and my fellow disabled people is that businesses can do it, they just don't want to.
Disney and Warner Brothers and everybody else can't wring their hands and go oh no, we cannot possibly do streaming when they just did. Yes, again, I get that there is a long history of finances and contracts with movie theaters here but that is not the point. Just because it's the way it was always done doesn't mean it's the way it always has to be.
And frankly as someone who is shut out of movie theaters I am not really sympathetic to the idea that their business model isn't sustainable if it doesn't accommodate people like me because it doesn't and therefore it shouldn't be.
Plus time freaking marches on. Needs change. I'm not trying to belittle people who do love the theater going experience nor am I trying to take that away from them. But we've seen in the past year that this doesn't have to be zero sum. Both options can exist. That model should continue. Yeah, this is going to affect how the flow of money works but yanno people who manufactured compact discs had to adjust too. If the only way to keep an old business model is to force consumers to use it then it's not a viable model.
Which then gets us to the money and the lawsuit.
ScarJo Deserves to Get Paid
I figured I'd make that the subheader just so it was clear. Because I have seen people online saying how very dare Scarlett Johansson and now Emma Stone and Emily Blunt even think about suing. Don't they know that if actors demand more money for streaming releases then studios won't do streaming releases anymore?! Think about the repercussions! This could prevent a Loki season 2!!!!!
(Yes, that is sadly an argument I actually saw on twitter. I'm not going to link to the stupidity but, uh, Loki fans? Please come collect these people because that's on you.)
Now obviously yes, beyond the possible repercussion that we may not get a season two of a show created by people for whom D is for Diploma was a mission statement (which is obviously keeping me up at night as the most pressing issue of our time), there is also the concern that if same day streaming services become too much of a headache for companies they'll stop offering it and people like me are back to being shut out like we used to be.
To which I say that doesn't matter. I mean it matters to me, I've just spent all this time talking about how much same day streaming means to me. But that is a completely separate issue from whether the same day streaming model should be offered fairly.
Here's the thing: people deserve to be paid for their work. That shouldn't be a controversial statement and yet here we are. Just because the names in this particular case belong to multi-millionaires doesn't mean they don't deserve compensation for performing the very tasks that allow studios to make billions.
I don't know why fandom has come up with this idea that all forms of art should be free as though there is no work involved but here we are. And the thing is that this isn't just about the big name actors but everybody else down the line. ScarJo may not actually be thinking about the residual streaming pay for sixteenth corpse from the left in a season two episode from Hannibal or about an assistant to the assistant production coordinator she's never even met, but the implications of her lawsuit will still affect and hopefully benefit them.
The villains here, if there are any, are the companies and executives who full on took advantage of the situation to find a way to make money for themselves while screwing over everyone who is not them. That is where the bullshit lies.
And if history has shown us anything (eh? eh? told you I'd get there eventually) it's that businesses don't go for the high ground unless they are forced to. The example I always think of in these situations is the stories of how in Victorian times you had merchants who would sell goods altered with cheap ingredients so that the product itself wasn't pure but they could still sell it.
Now it's great to think that the invisible free hand of the market would mean that surely the bakers who took pride in their work and made proper bread would succeed by virtue of having the better product but the truth is that if your competitor is turning a profit because they're mixing some alum in with the flour you're going to find yourself in a situation where no matter how strong your morals are you're going to have to either find a way to cut costs or shut down.
Which isn't to compare a conglomerate like Disney with a poor Victorian baker, but it is to compare Disney to the jagoff who started putting alum into the mix. They're trying to set a standard that the people who make money for them don't need to be fairly compensated and if they set that standard than everybody else is going to have to follow in order to try to compete. That is the thing that is going to affect streaming services far more than ScarJo saying she deserves a cut of the money that she made for that very studio.
Plus you cannot tell me that there isn't a level of sexism at play here. Note the ones who are raising their hands and who, as of me writing this, isn't. Emily Blunt is reportedly considering something but the Rock isn't? That doesn't stand out as a little suspicious in terms of who may have had the better deal?
I mean I wasn't in any of these meetings but I'm willing to take the Vegas odds that part of the reason why Disney screwed over ScarJo is that they assumed they could get away with it because she's a woman. We know there's a pay gap in Hollywood, are you going to tell me they didn't assume they could force a contract clause gap on her as well?
(Related, and again I have no proof, but part of me wonders if part of what bit Disney on the butt was that Natasha was killed off in Endgame and thus, now that her solo film is done, ScarJo has nothing to lose by suing them. After all, what are they going to do? Fire her?)
So yes, regardless of who is asking and how much money they have in the bank already, please put me down as firmly being on team As Long As The Studio Makes Money So Should Anyone Who Worked On The Product. But also at the same time team Please Change the Model So That Same Day Streaming Stays In The Picture (No Pun Intended). I don't see these as mutually exclusive except for how movie theaters and studios would rather pout and whine about how they don't wanna.
Too bad for them, I say. It's no longer a realistic way of doing business in today's world and that's true even if you put aside the problems with the pandemic.
Plus frankly I'm tired of feeling slapped in the face every time I see an ad for a movie that says "Only in theaters!" Let me pay my money and watch at the same time as every other human gets to. Sheesh.
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