CEO Bob Chapek said talent is Disney’s “most important asset” and claimed the company is undergoing a “reset” regarding its contracts.
Bob Chapek Says Talent Contracts Are Going Through a Reset
Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Tuesday that going forward, talent contracts at the studio “will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing.”
His remarks come as Disney battles a lawsuit from actress Scarlett Johansson alleging breach of contract for her work on “Black Widow.” While making his claims at a virtual Goldman Sachs conference, Chapek did not mention Johansson by name, but he did directly address the issues Hollywood is facing when it comes to compensating talent amid the pandemic.
As COVID-19 halted filmgoing, many movies expected to be box office hits were instead released directly to streaming, while others were released in theaters and on streaming platforms the same day. These models are drastically different from the exclusive theatrical release that films and the stars in them have come to expect over the last several decades.
“We’re sort of putting a square peg in a round hole right now where we’ve got a deal conceived under a certain set of conditions, that actually results in a movie that is being released in a completely different set of conditions,” Chapek said during the conference via numerous reports. “So there’s a bit of a reset that’s going on right now, and ultimately we’ll think about that as we do our future talent deals and plan for that and make sure that that’s incorporated.”
“But right now, we’ve got sort of this middle position where we’re trying to do right by the talent,” he added. “I think the talent’s trying to do right by us, and we’re just sort of figuring out our way to bridge the gap.”
Chapek also referred to talent as Disney’s “most important asset” and said that historically, the company has had a “very symbiotic” relationship with its talent regarding the deals they strike together.
Scarlett Johansson Vs. Disney
That symbiotic relationship is now being put to the test by Johanssen, who hit Disney with a lawsuit in July over its decision to release her “Black Widow” standalone picture for a premium fee on Disney+ the same day it hit the big screen. The actress claims that her contract guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for the film and that her salary was largely based on what it grossed at the box office. Because viewers had the option to purchase it for streaming at home, she claims she did not see “the full benefit” of her deal.
Disney claimed the lawsuit had no merit. It also released a scathing statement saying that Johansson’s legal effort showed a “callous disregard” for the harmful and prolonged effects of COVID-19, especially since she allegedly received $20 million upfront for “Black Widow.”
Disney is hoping to solve the matter via private arbitration. Johannson’s legal team wants to take the dispute to court.
So far, “Black Widow” has raked in $377 million worldwide. It broke pandemic box office records during its opening weekend but still has not made nearly as much as it likely would have prior to the pandemic.
As for whether or not the dual release strategy actually tanked the film’s earnings, that is hard to say. By comparison though, Marvel’s “Shang-Chi,” which was released exclusively in theaters, is already set to catch up to “Black Widow” at the box office. The film has been out for just under a month and has already made $306 million worldwide.
While many expected to see other A-list actors follow Johansson’s lead and likewise file lawsuits against studios who threw their titles on streaming, so far Disney has had seemingly no issue striking more deals with its talent. In the past several months, it has locked in sequels with stars like Emma Stone, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Emily Blunt.
See what others are saying: (The Wrap) (The Hollywood Reporter) (Los Angeles Times)
Ricky Gervais Criticized For Jokes About Trans People in New Netflix Special
The backlash comes less than a year after Dave Chappelle received similar criticism for his most recent stand-up special on Netflix.
Ricky Gervais Aims Jokes at Trans Community
Comedian Ricky Gervais is facing backlash over transphobic remarks he made in his latest Netflix stand-up special “SuperNature.”
Less than five minutes into the program, which was released on Tuesday, Gervais began aiming his jokes specifically at trans women.
“Oh, women. Not all women, I mean the old-fashioned ones,” Gervais said. “The old-fashioned women, the ones with wombs. Those fucking dinosaurs. I love the new women. They’re great, aren’t they? The new ones we’ve been seeing lately. The ones with beards and cocks!”
“They’re as good as gold, I love them,” he continued. “And now the old-fashioned ones say, ‘Oh, they want to use our toilets.’ ‘Why shouldn’t they use your toilets?’ ‘For ladies!’ ‘They are ladies, look at their pronouns. What about this person isn’t a lady?’ ‘Well, his penis.’ ‘Her penis, you fucking bigot!’ ‘What if he rapes me?’ ‘What if she rapes you, you fucking TERF whore?’”
He then bemoaned cancel culture and “woke comedy,” claiming the surest way for someone to get canceled is to tweet that “women don’t have penises.”
Gervais is no stranger to prompting controversy and outrage with his comedy. He likely anticipated that his remarks would cause a stir, especially given that he carved out time in his special to defend his jokes about trans people.
“Trans people just want to be treated equally,” he said. “I agree. That’s why I include them.”
Gervais noted he made jokes about a variety of groups and people, arguing that these remarks are not a window into his soul or beliefs. He said he would “take on any view” to make a joke as funny as possible, even if it does not reflect his own opinions.
“In real life, of course, I support trans rights,” he said. “I support all human rights, and trans rights are human rights. Live your best life. Use your preferred pronouns.”
Moments later, he joked that ladies should still “lose the cock.” The audience erupted in laughter.
Gervais Faces Backlash Online
Gervais was met with swift criticism within hours of “SuperNature” debuting on Netflix. Many said they would cancel their Netflix subscriptions because of the transphobia on the platform.
“Ricky Gervais has a new stand up show out on Netflix today,” one person tweeted. “[Five] minutes in and he’s making jokes about trans women attacking & raping people in public bathrooms. To him we exist only as a punchline, a threat, something less than human.”
“Ricky Gervais is a disgrace, he is going to cause hate crime and ultimately the death of Trans folk,” another person added.
Some further claimed that on top of it being offensive, it is lazy to take shots at marginalized communities in the name of comedy.
“This isn’t comedy. This is making cheap, nasty stereotypes out of a minority group,” one person wrote. “Please, if you’re Transgender or Support Trans lives, don’t watch this.”
Others accused Gervais of riding a wave of transphobia that has recently popped up among major comedians. Last year, Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” sparked a wave of backlash over the comedian’s jokes about trans people. Netflix staffers staged a walkout in protest, demanding that the company do more to help LGBTQ+ creators and stand against anti-trans content.
Terra Feld, a former Netflix employee who helped organize the protests, encouraged subscribers to ditch Netflix over Gervais’ recent remarks.
Halsey Says Her Label Won’t Release Her New Song Unless They Can “Fake” A Viral TikTok Moment. Artists Say This Points to a Larger Issue in the Industry
Artist Sizzy Rocket said that record companies are forcing musicians “to fit into this box of virality” in hopes of landing a quick hit.
Halsey Calls Out Record Label
Over the last several years, TikTok has changed nearly every aspect of the music industry by sending viral songs to the top of the Billboard charts. Even major artists like Halsey say they cannot escape the pressure to go viral, sparking concern over how the app is influencing music.
On Sunday, Halsey, who uses she/they pronouns, posted a TikTok saying they had a new song they were eager to release, but their label said they “can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.”
“Everything is marketing,” Halsey wrote, adding that this issue is impacting “basically every artist” right now.
Countless songs, including chart-toppers like “Old Town Road” and “drivers license” first soared to success on TikTok. Labels are eager to recreate that path in whatever ways they can.
Halsey’s label, Astralwerks-Capitol, gave a statement to Variety claiming its “belief in Halsey as a singular and important artist is total and unwavering.”
“We can’t wait for the world to hear their brilliant new music,” the statement said.
In response, Halsey noted that Astralwerks was the company that signed her before upstreaming her to Capitol. She said this statement in particular “came from the company who believed in me from the jump” and not the company she is “wrestling with now.”
Artists Speak Out
Nearly eight million views later, Halsey’s TikTok prompted fans and people working in the music industry to criticize the practice of forcing songs to go viral.
“Halsey has sold over 100 million records and she is having to put up with this nonsense?” musician Rebecca Ferguson tweeted. “Artists and creatives should be ‘free.’”
“halsey’s tik tok only scratches the surface of what’s happening in music right now,” singer and songwriter Sizzy Rocket added.
While speaking to Rogue Rocket, Sizzy Rocket said that labels and producers don’t understand that making a song and going viral on TikTok are two different art forms. The pressure of going viral often puts artists in positions where they feel their creative integrity could be compromised.
“Artists like myself and Halsey, who require a little bit more time and space to craft our messages, are sort of being forced to fit into this box of virality and so, it’s a big problem,” Sizzy Rocket said.
“As an artist, I can’t just do something to go viral.”
Sizzy Rocket said that labels have approached her to write songs for their more viral artists, oftentimes offering no pay for the session.
“It’s taken me four albums, I just released my fourth album, and ten years to develop this melodic and lyrical style,” she explained. “You know I have a thing, I have a je ne sais quoi, and so to ask me to just give that to a brand new artist who just went viral overnight is truly offensive.”
Smaller Artists Face Bigger Issues
As Halsey’s call-out TikTok has spread online, the “Closer” singer denied that the video was a promotional stunt of its own, arguing she is “way too established to stir something like this up for no reason or resort to this as a marketing tactic.”
But whether it be intentionally or inadvertently, Halsey has drummed up attention for their new music. Smaller artists don’t have the luxury of being able to instantly reach the masses. Sizzy Rocket said that up and comers like herself have to struggle more to get the spotlight, while mainstream artists have a larger fanbase to fall back on.
“I feel like smaller artists are more affected because we’re getting buried, right?” she said. “There’s so much content, there are so many people trying to go viral.”
“I feel like larger artists, because they have a more established and bigger audience, they sort of have access to that attention already,” Sizzy Rocket continued. “But for smaller artists, we sort of have to like, dig, dig through the pile of everyone else sort of grabbing for that trend.”
While Sizzy Rocket does not consider herself a viral artist, she said she did at one point try to go viral on TikTok. After filming the video, she felt it would be of no benefit.
“I just couldn’t post it because I didn’t understand how that sort of cheap grab for attention would help me deliver the message of my music,” she said.
With that said, Sizzy Rocket said she does not blame any TikTok artists who went viral on their own. Instead, she pointed the finger at labels who are trying to drive inorganic viral success while lacking an understanding of how art and social media interact with one another.
“I don’t want to place any blame on the actual TikTok artists who did go viral. I feel like they deserve to make their art as well,” she said. “It’s more about the label prioritizing the platform over the art itself.”
Other artists like Zara Larsson and Florence Welch have bemoaned the pressures they face from their record companies to be active on TikTok. Many agree that the expectations labels have in this arena are unfair to artists.
“labels all want a dove cameron ‘boyfriend’ moment (which i’d argue was rather organic) but how sustainable is that kind of traction as it’s v fleeting + how can artists even replicate that kind of virality,” culture writer Zoya Raza-Sheikh asked on Twitter.
For Halsey, it remains unclear when their new song will see the light of day. In a tweet, they claimed their label was impressed by their TikTok’s traction, but only said “we’ll see” when asked if the song could be released.
See what others are saying: (Variety) (Rolling Stone) (Entertainment Weekly)
N.Y. State Senate Passes Bill Championed by Jay-Z That Would Restrict Use of Rap Lyrics in Court
A companion bill currently sits in the state’s assembly.
“Rap Music on Trial” Passes Senate
The New York State Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that would curb prosecutors’ ability to cite rap lyrics and other creative works as evidence in legal battles.
Dubbed “Rap Music on Trial,” the bill aims to “enhance the free speech protections of New Yorkers by banning the use of art created by a defendant as evidence against them in a courtroom,” according to a statement from State Sens. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Jamaal Bailey (D-Queens).
“The legislation will protect all artists and content creators, including rappers from having their lyrics wielded against them by prosecutors,” the statement continued.
Right now, all forms of creative expression, including rap lyrics, can be used as evidence in criminal cases. Rap lyrics, however, are more likely to be weaponized against those who wrote them in trial, experts say.
“The use of rap and hip-hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system,” Bailey said in a statement.
Hoylman agrees that there is a double standard.
“Nobody thinks Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or that David Byrne is a psycho killer, but routinely rappers have their lyrics used against them in criminal trials,” he tweeted.
The bill would not fully ban the use of rap lyrics in court. If made into law, prosecutors would need “clear and convincing proof that there is a literal, factual nexus between creative expression and the facts of the case” in order to use these works as evidence.
Major artists including Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Kelly Rowland, and Robin Thicke previously signed a letter in support of the legislation.
A companion bill currently sits in the New York State Assembly.
Rap Lyrics in Court
The use of rap lyrics against their artists is not an uncommon tactic. Earlier this month, an indictment charging Young Thug, Gunna, and two dozen others over alleged gang activity and conspiracy to violate racketeering laws used lyrics of the aforementioned artists.
While the case is in Atlanta and would not be impacted by the New York bill, the use of their lyrics has stirred controversy. In a motion requesting that Gunna be released from jail, his lawyers argued that it was unfair to cite these works.
“It is intensely problematic that the State relies on song lyrics as part of its allegations,” his lawyers said in court documents. “These lyrics are an artist’s creative expression and not a literal recounting of facts and circumstances. Under the State’s theory, any artist with a song referencing violence could find herself the victim of a RICO indictment.”
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis defended the indictment’s use of the lyrics and argued it did not violate the artist’s free speech.
In the letter signed by numerous recording artists, the authors said this kind of tactic “effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom.”
“Rather than acknowledge rap music as a form of artistic expression, police and prosecutors argue that the lyrics should be interpreted literally — in the words of one prosecutor, as ‘autobiographical journals’ — even though the genre is rooted in a long tradition of storytelling that privileges figurative language, is steeped in hyperbole, and employs all of the same poetic devices we find in more traditional works of poetry,” the letter, which was written by Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro and University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson, said.