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‘Black Widow’ Controversy Exposes Streaming Services


When summer comes to a close, we enter the fall season and all its new beginnings. One aspect of this transition is all our summer memories, and we can look back with endearment at the variety of multimedia entertainment products from these past few months. We started off the summer with new seasons of Outer Banks and Never Have I Ever, and we were also able to enjoy the newest Billie Eilish album, Happier Than Ever. Of course, these forms of entertainment were all very popular and mostly satisfying, but none stood their ground against the controversy and buzz of Marvel Studio’s latest release, Black Widow. 

The film, directed by Cate Shortland, stars Marvel veteran Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff and the talented up-and-coming Florence Pugh as her adopted younger sister, Yelena Belova. The movie in itself stands apart from the overwhelming mass of male characters typically found in Marvel, and it’s full of wit, good-natured sarcasm and an impactful feminist call to action. Additionally, the plot isn’t overshadowed by gaudy fight scenes or cheesy one-liners, and the leading actors are all phenomenal in their respective roles. 

With Johansson’s history of speaking out and shutting down sexist remarks, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the film has many sharp and politically “woke” aspects. The many positive aspects of the film, in conjunction with the advertising campaign and Marvel’s general history of releasing blockbusters, would lead many to expect a massive box office revenue. In fact, total ticket sales were the lowest they’d ever been for Marvel since 2008, even though the film was released in theaters and on Disney Plus. Now, Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney. So what happened?

Before the pandemic, streaming services were not necessarily the main source of movie viewing. Although services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have been readily available for a while now, movie theaters used to be almost the only way of watching a newly released film. This flow was interrupted when, due to COVID-19, people could no longer leave their homes to see movies. To cope with the situation, streaming services gained the rights to brand-new movies. Disney Plus was one of many new ways to access the latest features, and although the platform only released Disney films, these included many popular animated children’s movies like Luca, or new Marvel shows and movies.

Predictably, when Black Widow was released, it was not only shown in the newly reopened theaters, but also made available on Disney Plus. This doesn’t seem particularly controversial, but to Johansson, it wasn’t all fair and square in the production room. According to the actress, Disney had agreed to wait at least 90 days before putting Black Widow on their streaming service, thus allowing the film to blow up in the box office. Regardless of the promise to wait, they released the film on Disney Plus immediately, losing her an estimated 50 million dollars. 

This lawsuit calls to attention a larger problem in our current media world — the integrity of our entertainment industry. We’ve watched as larger companies, like Disney or Netflix, buy different films or smaller enterprises and brand them with the title of “Netflix Original” or “Disney Film.” This strange new model of releasing films in movie theaters and online is likely to continue, which will be a huge loss for film producers and crews while profiting the companies which buy out the products. 

It’s crucial to preserve the tradition of seeing new films in the theater for more than just ritualistic reasons, for without the support of the public, the entire film industry could collapse. We’ve already seen theaters permanently close. While certain traditions are better forgotten, the tradition of seeing a film in the theater involves so much beauty and community that it must be continued. 

Updated: This article was changed to fix the headline.