LOS ANGELES (CN) - Former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller is seeking upwards of $110 million from the makers of the biopic "Straight Outta Compton" for falsely portraying him as the "bad guy" and a "sleazy manager," according to a lawsuit filed in state court.
Heller's complaint names numerous defendants, including NBC Universal, director F. Gary Gray, and producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
"They really made him a demon, they made him a devil," Heller's attorney Michael Shapiro told Courthouse News in a phone interview. "They made him a very unsavory, sleazy guy."
"Straight Outta Compton" tells the story of the rise and fall of N.W.A., a rap group that emerged from the streets of Compton in the mid-1980s and became hugely successful and influential in hip-hop culture.
The group was assembled by Eazy-E, who co-founded Ruthless Records with Heller. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella were also members of the controversial group that used explicit lyrics and glorified drugs and crime, sparking the rise in popularity of gangster rap.
Heller, portrayed in the movie by Paul Giamatti, says that the film "is littered with false statements that harm the reputation of plaintiff and aim to ridicule and lower him in the opinion of the community and to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him."
The film portrays Heller as the bad guy "who is solely responsible for the demise of N.W.A.," and as a "sleazy manager who took advantage of defendants Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube," the complaint says.
The movie also falsely shows Heller withholding a $75,000 check from Ice Cube, fraudulently inducing Dr. Dre and Ice Cube into signing unfavorable contracts, and enjoying lobster brunches while the contracts were being signed, Heller says.
Heller was also inaccurately portrayed as making sure "he was paid more than his fair share to the detriment of the other members of N.W.A." and intentionally keeping members of the group in the dark regarding finances, according to the complaint.
One of the more upsetting scenes for Heller was when the film portrayed Eazy-E firing him, a situation that was fabricated for the movie, Shapiro said.
"He and Eazy-E were thick as thieves. They were almost like father and son. They lived next door to each other, that's how close they were," Shapiro said.
The implication that Eazy-E, who died in 1995, fired Heller for acting inappropriately and stealing money "is pretty hurtful to Heller," the attorney said.
Heller claims in the complaint he never gave permission for filmmakers to use his name and likeness in the movie, nor has he received any benefits from the film.
"In fact, no individual associated with the film, including any of the defendants, ever bothered to contact plaintiff before the film was produced," the complaint says.
When the movie came out, Heller and his legal team went through the movie frame by frame and took copious notes on everything that was false and damaging before ultimately deciding to file the lawsuit, Shapiro said.
"When you're running an entertainment business and you're depicted as a low-life thief virtually around the world, the impact to your damages is huge," Shapiro said. "As it happens, this film may end up becoming the largest grossing music biopic in the history of the entertainment business, which is great for the producers, but not so good for Mr. Heller because he is defamed in the picture time and time again."
In addition to allegedly being defamed time and time again in the movie, Heller says that much of the material used in the movie was stolen from a book he wrote about Ruthless Records and N.W.A., and from prior screenplays that he owns.
A pivotal scene in the movie where police forcibly detain the members of N.W.A. at the recording studio and another scene where Marion "Suge" Knight uses physical force to compel Eazy-E to sign away exclusive contractual rights were both stolen straight from Heller's copyrighted works, the complaint says.
"The insidiousness of defendants' behavior is underscored by the fact that the film may well become the largest globally grossing music story-based film ever," the complaint says. "The larger the success of the film, the greater the damages to plaintiff, who has been and continues to be defamed, ridiculed, and robbed of his personal and financial rights."
Heller asserts claims for defamation, misappropriation of likeness, tortious interference, breach of contract, conversion and copyright infringement.
He is seeking $35 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages, plus box office profits from the movie as restitution. The film has grossed nearly $200 million worldwide.
Additional defendants include the Estate of Eazy-E, his widow Tomica Woods-Wright, Comptown Records, Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, Legendary Pictures, Xenon Pictures, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus.
NBC Universal declined to comment.
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