Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' Has Lost the Lawsuit to Be Titled 'The Butler'
Ah yes Hollywood, always using lawyers to fight for more money. Movies have existed for over 100 years and by now many have started reusing the same title - like David Cronenberg's Crash and Paul Haggis' Crash. Nowadays the MPAA can arbitrate a decision on titles, awarding only one movie the right to use a specific title, while others must change. For example: Lee Daniels' Push being changed to Precious, which went on to win two Oscars. Well, Lee Daniels is in trouble again, as The Butler has lost a major lawsuit for the title The Butler, which Warner Bros filed to defend the title of their 1916 silent comedy short of the same name.
As with anything involving lawyers and courts in Hollywood, this is a sensitive matter and something that will be fought endlessly until one side is required give up. The latest news is that the judge awarded Warner Bros the rights to keep the title The Butler, and The Weinstein Company lost. Thus, they said that "TWC had until midnight tonight to remove the word 'Butler' from all their marketing, promotion and other material related to the Lee Daniel’s directed film." Since that didn't happen (and it's everywhere) that means they're in willful violation of the Title Registration Bureau rules, but Weinstein is preparing to fight back, filing an appeal and hiring another powerful lawyer to go after WB. They claim WB is just out to harm competition.
In response to losing the suit, The Weinstein Company's attorney made this comment with plans to appeal:
"The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between TWC's 2013 feature movie and a 1917 [sic] short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense. The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy."
Despite that bold statement, which actually sounds perfectly reasonable, this still doesn't look good for The Weinstein Company and (the film formerly known as) The Butler. Since they are still in the middle of this legal battle, no other new title has been announced yet. But the film, starring Forest Whitaker, is scheduled for release on August 16th just over a month away. That's not much time to change the title and all the marketing material, but they may be required to change everything in the end. The story about the White House's head butler is originally based on a 2008 Washington Post article titled "A Butler Well Served By This Election," which should provide plenty of other titling options beyond the rather boring "The Butler".
Earlier in the year, Lee Daniels' The Butler (or whatever it will be called) was expected to be a strong Oscar contender, boasting an outstanding ensemble cast and fascinating untold-but-true story. Forest Whitaker stars as Cecil Gaines (their name for the man actually named Eugene Allen in real life), the White House's head butler who served eight presidents over the course of three decades. The film also stars powerful people like Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Melissa Leo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber and John Cusack. We'll be following for updates to find out what happens next, and to see if they change the title. Truthfully, The Butler wasn't that great to begin with.