GONE WITH THE WIND Actress’s Case Could Go to The Supreme Court
By Tess Farrand, Staff Writer
Centenarian and last survivor of the epic film, GONE WITH THE WIND, Oliva de Haviland (102 years old), plans to take FX network to the supreme court. And, this might change how biography movies are made.
The recent bio-drama series on the FX network, FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN, follows the events of 1960’s Hollywood elite off-camera. The series stars Jessica Lange (AMERICAN HORROR STORY, KING KONG) as Bette Davis, Susan Sarandon (THELMA AND LOUISE, ENCHANTED) as Joan Crawford and Catherine Zeta-Jones (NO RESERVATIONS, CHICAGO) portrays De Havilland.
The series follows these actresses as they fight against the studio system, but the real-life Olivia wasn’t pleased with how she was portrayed.
She sued FX in June of 2017 with claims of infringement of common law right of publicity, false light and unjust enrichment.
De Havilland claims that some of the scenes in FEUD inaccurately portrayed her with Bette Davis. Additionally, she asserts that the FX network conspired against her with malintent by creating moments that never happened or twisted remarks de Havilland made about Frank Sinatra’s alcoholism.
In September of 2017, however, the Los Angeles Superior Court passed in favor of FEUD. Judge Holly Kendig headed the decision that actually gave credit to creators under the first amendment. Yet, the decision was overturned because creative projects cannot always rely on one source for information, in this case, de Havilland’s memory of the events. Rather, producers and other industry personnel tend to take compilations of ideas and create something new out of their gathered material and that is protected under U.S. law.
The appeals court found de Havilland’s grounds for the lawsuit to be an even greater attack on fiction more than the writings of FEUD. The court said in a statement, “fiction is by definition untrue. It is imagined, made-up. Put more starkly, it is false. Publishing a fictitious work about a real person cannot mean the author, by virtue of writing fiction, has acted with actual malice.”
However, de Havilland claims that FEUD is not a work of fiction because it was inspired by true events. Going forward, the case essentially must evaluate if FX intended to create a poor image of de Havilland, as she claims.
Unlike Davis and Crawford, de Havilland albeit at 102 years of age, is still living and asserts her recollections are valid in contrast to the portrayal of her character. This issue of “malintent” is what’s keeping her moving forward to seeking higher forms of federal ruling.
If her case does make it to the Supreme Court (which as of now is just speculation), then what’s to come of future docu-series and bio-pics? Does that mean deceased people like Elvis or Billy Graham can’t have a movie about them because they have no say in how they’re portrayed? Or, what about slander, ridicule and revisionist history? This is all food for thought as de Havilland’s case continues to work its way up the ranks.
Obviously, de Havilland isn’t giving up. In her eyes, her reputation is on the line and that merits a battle. The court’s statement details how the veteran actress should proceed, “De Havilland must demonstrate that FX either deliberately cast her statements in an equivocal fashion in the hope of insinuating a defamatory import to the reader, or that it knew or acted in reckless disregard of whether its words would be interpreted by the average reader as defamatory statements of fact.”
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