ATLANTA (CN) – “The Good Lie,” a well-received film starring Reese Witherspoon, used the life stories of dozens of survivors of Sudanese genocide without paying them, the Foundation for Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan claims in a federal lawsuit.
The foundation and 54 refugees sued six productions and three people on Feb. 19, alleging fraudulent inducement, unjust enrichment, breach of faith, breach of contract, commercial appropriation, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty. They also want an accounting.
The movie, directed by Ron Howard, was released on Oct. 3, 2014. It depicts the civil tension and genocide that took the lives of 2.5 million Sudanese people.
Named as defendants are Alcon Entertainment, Imagine Entertainment, Good Lie Productions, Black Label Media, Reliance Big Entertainment, Outlaw Productions, Deborah Jelin Newmyer as executrix of the Estate of Robert Newmyer, Jeffrey Silver and Margaret Nagle.
Silver is a partner in Outlaw, as was Newmyer’s estate, according to the 101-page lawsuit. Nagle is a screenwriter.
Neither Howard nor Witherspoon are parties to the lawsuit.
The foundation describes itself as a nonprofit in Georgia, where the refugees live.
It claims the 54 “Lost Boys” partnered with the defendants to help create a screenplay to “raise public awareness of the plight of Sudanese refugees” through depiction of their “traumatic personal stories.”
The children were forced from their villages in South Sudan to travel for months in search of refugee camps, burying their fallen friends along the way.
After meeting with film producer Robert Newmyer, three of the Lost Boys negotiated a deal with Newmyer and Nagle, according to the complaint.
The foundation claims that Newmyer and Nagle “would not allow the script to be used for a film unless and until the Contributing Lost Boys consented after reaching an agreement as to compensation with the future filmmakers/studios.”
“Newmyer and Nagle further promised that they would facilitate using the telling of the Contributing Lost Boys’ stories as a catalyst to raise funds for a new foundation to be organized and operated by the Contributing Lost Boys,” the complaint states.
The foundation claims that under terms of a joint venture, the Lost Boys participated in interviews recorded by audio or video in Atlanta in 2003 as Newmyer and Nagle developed a screenplay based on the stories.
After Newmyer’s unexpected death in December 2005, Nagle tabled the screenplay until 2013 when Paramount Pictures purchased its production rights from Outlaw without the knowledge or consent of the Lost Boys, according to the complaint.
Reliance Big Entertainment, Imagine Entertainment, Alcon Entertainment, Black Label Media, and Good Lie Productions obtained rights and associated together as the production team that began filming “The Good Lie” in Atlanta in early 2013, the foundation says.
It claims that the production team was aware of its obligations and responsibilities under the joint venture agreement during the various transfers of ownership and production interests.
The foundation claims that the Contributing Lost Boys spoke with the movie director Philippe Falardeau, Black Label Media producer Molly Smith and Imagine Entertainment producer Karen Sherwood in a videotaped meeting on April 15, 2013.
According to the lawsuit, Smith addressed the Contributing Lost Boys’ concerns at the meeting, saying: “The most important thing that was said here today was you asked a question, ‘Do you feel we should be compensated for your story?’ And, the answer I can say, because it’s my company and my studio, is absolutely.”
But over the next few months, counsel for the production companies rejected efforts to cooperate or mediate, and “denied the existence of any agreement with the Contributing Lost Boys or the foundation,” according to the lawsuit.
Noticing material from their interviews used in the 2-minute trailer released in June 2014, the Contributing Lost Boys assigned intellectual property rights to their stories and claims to the Foundation for Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit describes multiple refugee stories that appear in “The Good Lie,” including one about a brother who lied to rebel forces to save a group of younger boys hiding in the grass.
The foundation seeks damages for 18 causes of action.
It and the 54 Lost Boys are represented by Jason Graham, with Graham and Jensen in Atlanta.
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