Marvel’s Black Widow is once again a legitimate battle between Marvel and its genius.
Yelena Belova’s co-producers say they thought they had a $25k deal each for the Black Widow movie and various other spinoffs that came with it, such as action figures and video games. Instead, they were only paid $5k.
“After talking to several producers, Marvel’s financial offer feels a little bit like a bait and switch,” artist JG Jones told The Hollywood Reporter. “They put out a large number, then gradually reduce the actual payout.”
“It’s like the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes,” said author Devin Grayson. “You can win $1 million, but you won’t.”
Essentially, the contract seems To offer very clear payment terms. Her contract, signed in 2007, stated that Grayson would receive $25,000 for a film role, $2,000 for a TV episode of more than 30 minutes, and $1,000 for a TV episode of 30 minutes or less.
There is also a deal for toy sales and other merchandise, including action figure sales – $5,000 for one figure, $10,000 for two, or $25,000 for three or more in a year. When it comes to video games, there is a maximum of $30,000 to be shared between all creators who have a character in the game.
That’s not a huge amount for an asset that regularly generates billions of dollars for a company. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the deal includes language that would give Marvel broad discretion to make dramatically lower payments.
One way to do this is to split the sum of $25,000 between both artist and writer, meaning that Grayson and Jones would have been entitled to a maximum of $12,500 each. Even worse, if more than one character is included in the film’s Special Character Agreement, the company has the right to share the pot. All Producers involved in that film.
Essentially, that original $25,000 will be shared among all the stakeholders, including those behind characters like the Red Guardian and Melina Vostokoff. However, a Marvel source said that there is no upper limit on payments in these cases – it is likely that the studio paid more than $25,000 to all the actors and writers involved in the film.
How much, remains a mystery.
Another way Marvel allegedly reduced its payments was by classifying some appearances as cameos. If a character appears in less than 15 percent of the film’s runtime, it is considered a cameo and this disqualifies the producers.
Happily, as THR points out, Captain America will be considered a cameo in Avengers: Infinity War when he appears for just under 7 minutes and 30 seconds.
Who is Yelena Belova from Black Widow?
In addition, the exclusive character contract – the contract at the heart of this controversy – is said to include an NDA, stopping writers and artists from speaking. In many ways, producers who refuse to sign contracts are better off.
One such producer, Joe Casey, says he received no payment for the use of his character America Chavez in the recent comic book movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
“Maybe $5,000 is something for some kid in his early 20s who doesn’t have a career,” Casey said. “For many of us who have been in the business for decades, it’s humiliating.”
Unfortunately, $5000 seems like a lot compared to the most recent payments.
After Yelena Belova appeared in a recent hockey series, Grayson expected her contract to pay $2000 per episode. Instead, Marvel offered her only $300 per episode.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Black Widow has been the source of legal action, with star Scarlett Johansson accusing Disney of breach of contract after the film was released on Disney+. After that, Johansson’s case has been settled.
Want to know more about Black Widow? Check out our recent Marvel comic book movie reviews and find out where the villains rank on our list of the best big bads.
Ryan Leston is an entertainment journalist and film critic for IGN. You can follow him Twitter.