MANHATTAN (CN) – An award-winning photographer claims the producers of the Broadway musical “Fela!” used her image of the legendary musician and political activist’s nightclub, Africa Shrine, as the backdrop for their set without her permission.
In a 59-page lawsuit in Federal Court, Marilyn Nance says the creators of “Fela!” projected her 1977 photograph across the stage to form the backdrop of the show.
The Tony award-winning musical “tells the true story of Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician whose soulful and stirring Afrobeat rhythms ignited a generation,” according to its Broadway playbill.
Nance has allegedly “produced exceptional, iconic images of the cultural history of the United States and the African Diaspora,” which have earned her a CEBA Award and other honors.
She says her artistic focus and scholarship drew her to Fela Kuti’s Africa Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria, where she took the photograph of Kuti’s nightclub in 1977. The image was first published in a 2003 book called “Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti” by Trevor Schoonmaker, the lawsuit states.
Nance says she licensed her image to a handful of museums, including the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute for its Fela Kuti exhibition, which “was/is coincidentally in partnership with the Broadway musical ‘Fela!'”
She claims nobody involved with the musical contacted her “for any reason whatsoever” before using her photograph. She says “Fela!” premiered off Broadway in 2008 and has since become a $10 million Broadway production featuring celebrities such as Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay-Z.
Nance points out that show’s creators did not have to use her photograph, as the musical primarily takes place inside the Africa Shrine nightclub, while her photo is of the nightclub’s exterior.
She says the creators selected her image “at their sole discretion, solely for artistic and/or theatrical and/or layout design purposes,” without asking her permission.
And she claims they “brazenly and extensively employed and continued to employ plaintiff’s image in the production of ‘Fela!’ and in connection with the promotion and/or merchandise of same.”
The show’s production allegedly used a version of her image on souvenir programs (credited to another photographer), a CD jacket of the cast recording (credited to a production company), a music video (not credited), press kits, promotional videos and photos.
Nance seeks an injunction, an accounting and damages for all profits “believed to be in excess of $150,000” for the alleged copyright and trademark infringement and negligence.
Defendants are Fela Broadway aka Fela On Broadway, Roy Gabay Productions, Roy Gabay Theatrical Production and Management, Knitting Factory Records, set designer Marina Draghici and projection designer Peter Nigrini.
Nance is represented by Edward Greenberg.