Scarlett Johansson recently filed a lawsuit against Disney, claiming they broke the terms of her contract by releasing Black Widow on Disney + at the same time they released it in theaters. Disney issued a statement asserting that the terms of the contract were met and insinuating that Johansson ought to be content with the over 20 million dollars she was paid.
Is Disney guilty of breaking the terms of the contract? Does Black Widow have a black heart of greed? Why can’t Scarlett Johansson be happy with her huge fortune and accept the situation as an unfortunate result of Covid-19? No doubt, the contract in question is more detailed than the U.S. Constitution, and there are many parties involved such as agents, lawyers and the like, which means the decision is not entirely Johansson’s to make. All we can really do is speculate. We are all just backseat drivers. Still, Speculating, back-seat driving and playing arm chair quarterback are loads of fun.
I couldn’t resist asking myself what I would do, as a person of faith, if I were in her shoes. Would I take the seemingly high road and let the breach of contract go? Would I take a stand and fight for what I was owed? How could scripture inform my decision?
The New Testament does offer a handful of teachings that suggest a passive approach. In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an Eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” At first glance, that seems pretty applicable to the situation at hand. Don’t fight back. Don’t sue Disney. Done.
What is “turning the other cheek” really about though? Throughout Chapter five John’s gospel, Jesus teaches His followers to go above and beyond the black and white rules of the Mosaic Law. Jesus pushes us to see the intent behind each of God’s rules. For example, the intent behind the Old Testament dictum “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is that the law should be administered fairly and justly. When the true spirit of justice is ignored, justice can easily be weaponized as a means to exact revenge or grab power. This is why Jesus urges His followers to go above and beyond the letter of the law and to embrace the heart behind the law.
Justice is tricky, if not impossible to implement in the real world, where pettiness, competitiveness and unforgiveness often reign. When it comes to interpersonal conflict, turning the other cheek produces amazing results. It prevents the escalation and perpetuation of conflict. Turning the other cheek garners sympathy and can even change the heart of the aggressor who begins to see their own malice. This happened in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement. Police sprayed and beat peaceful protesters who refused to fight back. The heart of America changed as it watched these events unfold.
Turning the other cheek and walking away from a fight with Disney would certainly bring peace to the Johansson vs Disney battle, but would simply walking away be the right thing to do? Yes. However, the Bible might have another principle up its sleeve that would act as a counter weight to turning the other cheek. There is another Biblically acceptable answer.
Just a few years ago, it came to light that Hollywood powerbroker Harvey Weinstein sexually abused multiple actresses. Most of them chose silence instead of fighting such a powerful and well connected individual. This set a precedent, so the abuse continued. One day, however, a reporter named Jodi Kantor from the New York Times took her stand in a proverbial David and Goliath battle against Weinstein and won. She didn’t just win for herself. It was a victory for all women, who would now enjoy greater protection from predators in the workplace. Could Scarlett Johansson be making a similar stand?
The biblical story of David and Goliath kicks off with Goliath offering Israel a bargain: surrender and slavery in exchange for peace. A bloodless surrender was appealing! Peace was in sight! Thankfully, someone showed up who was not ready to trade freedom for peace! David stood up to Goliath and sent a river-smoothed stone crashing through the brute’s forehead. Israel was ecstatic! The Philistines wizzed their pants, and the rest is history.
If I were in Scarlett Johansson's position, I would realize that this situation affects more than just me. What about everyone in the film industry who will be affected if companies like Disney know they can simply ignore their contracts. What about the actresses fighting to receive fair pay and respect and wanting to be more than sexy window dressing in movies for men? Will holding Disney accountable positively affect how they are treated? On the other hand, what about Jesus’ plea to turn the other cheek? Am I obligated to follow the teaching and example of Jesus?
Jesus turned the other cheek when he was persecuted and gave the world a stunning picture of grace in the face of violence, but Jesus set many other examples. Jesus also stood as bold preacher. He looked into the faces of powerful men and thundered the call to, “repent!” If Disney truly disregarded a contract it made with Scarlett Johansson, some repentance may be in order. I think I would stand like David. I think I would fight for those who were following in my footsteps. I think I would thunder like Jesus when it came to Disney. Hopefully, I would have the grace to bear the stinging word of my critics and turn the other cheek.