On July 29, Marvel and Disney fans alike were shocked to see that Scarlett Johansson, star of Marvel’s newest film Black Widow, was suing Disney for $50 million for an alleged breach of contract.
Disney was quick to shoot back, calling the lawsuit “callous” and “disheartening” which, in turn, had Scarlett’s agent — CAA Co-Chair Bryan Lourd — slamming Disney for releasing Scarlett’s salary as a way to deflect from their breach. Numerous other companies then banded together and called Disney’s response to the lawsuit a “gendered character attack”.
Well, it seems that Disney insiders are blaming one person for this PR nightmare currently facing the studio — Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
In a report by The Wrap, insiders allegedly believe that the lawsuit would not be happening if former CEO Bob Iger was in charge or had even been a part of the talks.
I talked with a half-dozen executives familiar with Disney and its culture. It seems that Iger either intentionally allowed Chapek to shoot himself in the foot with Johansson’s team by failing to step in and negotiate an alternative to a lawsuit, or that he is so disconnected from his successor that he was not in the loop to step in as he usually would.
“What do you expect?” asked a former Disney executive who called it an “irksome” rookie error. “Chapek and Iger are not spending time and comparing notes and working to mutual success, which is kind of what you look for in a succession plan. Talent is important. You should proactively say: ‘Let’s figure this out.’”
Bob Chapek has been with The Walt Disney Company for almost 30 years and prior to his ascension to CEO was the Chair of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, a position now held by Josh D’Amaro. Unfortunately, Chapek’s prior roles at Disney did not put him working directly with a lot of talent, which Disney insiders were also worried about.
It is also being reported that current Executive Chairman Bob Iger was concerned that the person Chapek appointed as Distribution Chief, Kareem Daniel, also had no real experience in dealing with talent, as he is a former engineer turned investment banker.
“This signals that everything fell apart,” the first Disney insider said. “There are checks and balances in place to prevent things descending into lawsuits and insults… You have to blow by all the different restraint systems designed to keep everyone working together and playing nice. Scarlett’s team didn’t just go to the courthouse and sue.”
The rumor of a reported rift between Bob Iger and Bob Chapek has been swirling for months, beginning when Bob Iger announced — only a few months into the pandemic — that he would be stepping back and letting Bob Chapek take a more proactive role as CEO.
Unfortunately for the new CEO, Scarlett Johansson is not the only major Disney star who is considering a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company. Emma Stone, star of Disney’s Cruella, is also reportedly taking her legal options under consideration. Both Cruella and Black Widow were released simultaneously on Disney+ Premier Access and in theaters, which is the crux of Johansson’s lawsuit.
Neither Disney, Bob Chapek, nor Bob Iger have issued a response to The Wrap‘s report at this time.