“Low Blow Marvel,” ‘Black Widow’ Creator Reportedly Paid One-Fifth of Contract

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scarlett johansson as natasha romanoff (left) and florence pugh as yelena belova (right) black widow on bik

Credit: Marvel Studios

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is constantly expanding, and with each new series or feature film, a brand new character comes along. With Phase Four at its peak, never before have there been so many original characters in the MCU. Now, however, recent reports reveal that Black Widow (2021) character creators were paid one-fifth of their contractual agreement.

florence pugh as yelena belova (left) and julia louis dreyfuss as countess (right) in black widow
Credit: Marvel Studios

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Marvel alum Scarlett Johansson shocked the entertainment world upon suing The Walt Disney Company for a breach of contract for releasing Black Widow on Disney+, reportedly stating that the streaming service significantly reduced the actress’ compensation and the film’s box office gross.

While the exact terms and conditions of the heated lawsuit settlement have not been made public, Black Widow has been embroiled in legal controversies since the film was theatrically delayed due to COVID-19. Now, a new report reveals that the creators of Yelena Belova were paid one-fifth of their previous agreement with Marvel for the character’s MCU debut:

The creators of Yelena Belova signed a contract in 2007 with Marvel entitling them to $25,000 each for the ‘BLACK WIDOW’ film.

Only $5,000 was sent in November without explanation.

To make matters worst, The Hollywood Reporter states that writer Devin Grayson and artist J.G. Jones were only paid $300 an episode for Yelena’s landmark appearance in Hawkeye, compared to the $2,000 an episode that was initially stated in their Marvel contract.

black widow yelena belova Florence Pugh
Credit: Marvel Studios

This kind of revelation about Marvel compensating their employees and artists is nothing new in recent years, with America Chavez creator Joe Casey reportedly being paid only $5,000 for the character’s debut in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), a $950 million plus box office hit:

“Maybe $5,000 means something to some kid in his early 20s that doesn’t have a career. For a lot of us who have been in the business for decades, it comes off as an insult.”

natasha romanoff (left) and yelena belova (right)
Credit: Marvel Studios

Now, the creators of Yelena Belova find themselves at a legal crossroads, as they’ve been quietly contacting Marvel and battling various contractual agreement issues with the Hollywood powerhouse.

Though Florence Pugh’s Marvel character is one of the best Phase Four additions and undisputed future of Marvel, it’s clear that both parties aren’t seeing eye to eye:

Writer Devin Grayson and artist J.G. Jones believed they would take home $25,000 each for her appearance in Black Widow thanks to paperwork they signed outlining how much they would receive for films, TV shows, video games and action figures featuring Yelena. But when Grayson and Jones, who created Yelena in 1999, eventually received payment in November, that $25,000 dwindled to about $5,000 without explanation.

Grayson has spent the past year seeking an answer in a journey that sheds light on how Marvel compensates the comic book writers and artists behind the characters fueling the most successful film franchise in history. Those who work with the company describe a labyrinthine system that leaves creators wondering how Marvel arrived at its figures.

yelena belova (left) and natasha romanoff (right) in black widow
Credit: Marvel Studios

Devin Grayson reportedly signed a Special Character Agreement with Marvel in 2007, laying out the groundwork for proper compensation if and when Marvel Studios were to use Yelena Belova in any media.

Grayson was reportedly entitled to $25,000 per theatrical film appearance, $2,000 for a TV episode over 30 minutes, $1,000 per TV episode under 30 minutes, and up to a $30,000 pool for all characters creators if Marvel were to produce a video game. On top of that, Grayson was contracted to receive “$5,000 for one figure released in a single year, $10,000 for two, or $25,000 for three or more,” per the THR report.

Left to Right Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Alexei (David Harbour) and Yelena (Florence Pugh)
Credit: Marvel

The report continues:

However, buried within the document was language that granted Marvel broad discretion to dramatically lower payments, language Grayson and others who spoke to THR say is misleading given that the $25,000 is listed prominently in the paperwork.

Grayson herself spoke on the matter, noting the difficulties of being a female creator in a male-dominated industry:

“It’s like the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. You could win $1 million, but you won’t.”

yelena belova (left) and natasha romanoff (right) in black widow
Credit: Marvel Studios

Yelena co-creator J.G. Jones shared that they received payment similar to Devin Grayson:

“Having spoken to a number of creators, Marvel’s financial offerings seem a bit of a bait and switch. They throw out a large number, then little by little they whittle down the actual payout.”

A group of people sitting at a table
Credit: Marvel Studios

The Hollywood Reporter writes:

For starters, Marvel splits the sum between the writer and artist. So, according to Marvel’s math, the most Grayson could have made from Black Widow is $12,500 — half of a $25,000 pot split with Jones, Yelena’s co-creator. What’s more, if a film features more than one character covered by a Special Character Agreement, the company will share the pot of money among all creators with skin in the game. In other words, she was told, the $25,000 for Black Widow would be shared across all stakeholders, presumably those behind characters such as Red Guardian (played by David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). A Marvel source notes that there is no ceiling to the total money paid to creators for a project, and it might be raised depending on what is deemed fair. Given this, it likely paid more than $25,000 in total to artists and writers with a claim on Black Widow.

Another way Marvel shrinks payments is by classifying some film appearances as “cameos.” According to sources, if a character appears for less than 15 percent of screen time, that’s considered a cameo — and thus its creators are due less money. By that standard, Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, a character key to Captain America: Civil War, would be considered a cameo; he appeared in 22 minutes (just under 15 percent) of its 2 hour, 28 minute run time. Ditto for Captain America, who appeared for less than 7 minutes, 30 seconds of Avengers: Infinity War.

black widow (l-r) rachel weisz,scarlett johansson, florence pugh at table
Credit: Marvel Studios

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Marvel fans were quick to respond to these reports:

Low blow marvel

Another fan writes:

I think character creators and storyline writers should be paid better. You create a character you’re owed money. If the studio is taking your storyline and adapting it you should get money. X-Men movies adapted loads of comic storylines.

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Given that Marvel Studios has not officially responded to the above claims, please take this information with a grain of salt.

black widow holding rifle
Credit: Disney

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The Marvel Universe is becoming much more than iconic characters/Earth’s Mightiest Heroes like Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Thanos (Josh Brolin).

Tom Holland’s Avenger is leading the way for Marvel Cinematic Universe newcomers Kate BishopMs. Marvel/Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), Moon Knight (Oscar Isaac), Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany), Eternals’ Thena (Angelina Jolie), and more — especially with his next Spider-Man trilogy that’s currently in the works.

Should Marvel artists be paid more? Comment below!

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