Variety / A three-judge panel has tossed out the defamation suit brought by actress Olivia de Havilland , in a ruling that affirms the right of filmmakers to embellish the historical record.
De Havilland sued FX Networks last year, alleging that the miniseries “ Feud ” included a damaging portrayal of her. The case was closely watched because it appeared to threaten the ability of filmmakers to portray real events with fictionalized elements. But in its ruling Monday, the court unanimously held that such portrayals are protected by the First Amendment.
“Whether a person portrayed in one of these expressive works is a world-renowned film star — ‘a living legend’ — or a person no one knows, she or he does not own history,” Justice Anne Egerton wrote. “Nor does she or he have the legal right to control, dictate, approve, disapprove, or veto the creator’s portrayal of actual people.”
The FX series includes an interview with de Havilland, who is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, in which she calls her sister, Joan Fontaine, a “bitch.” The character also makes a joke about Frank Sinatra’s drinking. De Havilland, 101, objected, saying the producers of the show never consulted her or got her permission for the portrayal. She also said she would never use a vulgarity in referring to her sister, though she did once call her a “dragon lady” in an interview.
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FX sought to have her case tossed out on First Amendment grounds, but in a surprise ruling last fall, Judge Holly Kendig denied the motion. FX appealed, arguing that the ruling would have a chilling effect on docudramas. The Motion Picture Association of America came to the network’s defense, arguing in an amicus brief that the court’s ruling would give politicians and celebrities veto power over films about their lives.
Series creator Ryan Murphy hailed the court’s decision in a statement.
“The reversal is a victory for the creative community, and the First Amendment,” he said. “Today’s victory gives all creators the breathing room necessary to continue to tell important historical stories inspired by true events. Most of all, it’s a great day for artistic expression and a reminder of how precious our freedom remains.”
In its ruling, the court held that the depiction of de Havilland was not malicious.
“Taken in its entirety and in context, Zeta-Jones’s portrayal of de Havilland is overwhelmingly positive,” Egerton wrote. “The work itself belies de Havilland’s contention that Zeta-Jones portrays de Havilland as a ‘vulgar gossip’ and ‘hypocrite.’”
In her suit, de Havilland argued that the production had not paid her for the rights to her story. She cited industry experts who claimed it was standard practice to obtain “life rights” from any prominent people who are still alive, and who said she could have been paid as much as $2.1 million. But the court held that FX was not obliged to pay de Havilland.
“The First Amendment simply does not require such acquisition agreements,” the court held. “The creators of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story can portray trial judge Lance Ito without acquiring his rights. Fruitvale Station’ s writer and director Ryan Coogler can portray Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle without acquiring his rights. HBO can portray Sarah Palin in Game Change without acquiring her rights. There are myriad additional examples.”
Olivia de Havilland’s ‘Feud’ Suit Tossed by Appeals Court
Con Información de Variety
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