Anheuser-Busch Asks Paramount to Remove Budweiser From 'Flight'
UPDATED: The film's alcoholic lead character, played by Denzel Washington, drinks the beer while driving. The U.S. distributor of Stolichnaya also is asking that the brand be removed from the film. Are the depictions fair use?
Anheuser-Busch Cos., maker of Budweiser, has asked Paramount Pictures to remove the beer from its hit film Flight, which centers on an alcoholic pilot who guzzles alcohol and takes drugs both before and after he prevents a malfunctioning jetliner from crashing.
Throughout the Robert Zemeckis-directed movie, Denzel Washington's character drinks beer and vodka with gusto. In one scene, he sips a Budweiser while driving. And Anheuser-Busch has taken notice.
St. Louis-based Budweiser has asked that its logo be removed or obscured from digital copies of the film and future versions slated for release on VOD services and other formats. "We would never condone the misuse of our products and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving," said Budwesier vp Rob McCarthy in a statement to the Associated Press.
William Grant & Sons Inc., the stateside distributor of Stolichnaya vodka, also has asked the studio to remove the brand from the film. The New York-based company said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that the inclusion of Stoli in the film violates the company's internal code of responsible marketing and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States' code of responsible practices.
"Considering the subject matter of the film Flight, it is certainly not a project in which we would have willingly participated," said Jonathan Yusen, senior vice president of marketing in North America for William Grant & Sons. "The inclusion directly contradicts the codes and our commitment to responsible marketing."
Trademark and copyright laws can prevent logos or other protected images from being used without permission in films. But filmmakers also are granted certain "fair use" privileges under federal law, which allows for certain use of protected materials without receiving permission from the rights holder. Fair use is invoked for everything from films to television and newspaper reports.
Paramount declined comment. Flight, which opened Nov. 2, grossed $24.9 million in its opening weekend and received strong reviews.
Budweiser and Stoli aren't the only alcoholic beverage enjoyed by Washington's character: He also drinks Smirnoff and Absolut vodkas. During one climactic scene, the character stares longingly at an open hotel minibar, and the labels of many alcohol bottles are visible.
A representative for Absolut confirmed in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that the company did not participate in the Flight filmmakers' decision to show the vodka in the movie. "We are aware that our product on occasion features in various entertainment mediums; however, this is only on the producers' initiative and we never back it up or fund such initiatives," the company said, declining further comment.
A representative of Smirnoff did not respond to a request for comment.