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In its first big move defending the $68 million lawsuit brought by Woody Allen, Amazon says it was “justified” in terminating his lucrative film deal. The digital giant points to Allen’s statement of a “witch-hunt atmosphere” on the eve of releasing Wonder Wheel and says the comment during the rise of the #MeToo movement effectively sabotaged promotional efforts for the film.
For now, however, Amazon is staying away from Allen’s claims of contract breaches to target his other claims that it says are duplicative.
Allen’s production company filed its suit in New York in February after a five-year relationship disintegrated. When Amazon decided to get into the business of producing original motion pictures and television shows in 2014, a splashy deal with Allen was quite hyped and helped attract consumers to Prime. But then came a 2016 column by Ronan Farrow in The Hollywood Reporter, and later, the rise of the #MeToo movement. His daughter’s allegations of sexual abuse got renewed attention.
Last June, Amazon attempted to terminate its agreements with Allen and wipe out minimum guaranteed payments totaling between $68 million and $73 million for multiple films.
“Amazon has tried to excuse its action by referencing a 25-year old, baseless allegation against Mr. Allen, but that allegation was already well known to Amazon (and the public) before Amazon entered into four separate deals with Mr. Allen — and, in any event it does not provide a basis for Amazon to terminate the contract,” stated the complaint. “There simply was no legitimate ground for Amazon to renege on its promises.”
The defendant, of course, disagrees.
One of Farrow’s other big articles — an exposé for The New Yorker on Harvey Weinstein — became the catalyst for a broad public reckoning over the persistence of sexual harassment in entertainment, says Amazon (ignoring in its brief its own troubles with former Amazon Studios head Roy Price, who helped bring Allen to Amazon before getting targeted for sexual innuendo in the workplace).
“Despite immediate consensus on the importance of acknowledging and addressing this issue, Allen made a series of public comments suggesting that he failed to grasp the gravity of the issues or the implications for his own career,” continues Amazon. “Allen expressed sympathy for Weinstein as well as his victims, describing the situation as ‘very sad for everybody involved.’ Then Allen added: ‘You don’t want it to lead to a witch-hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself.'”
Amazon adds that Allen’s dismissal of Dylan Farrow’s memories of sexual abuse as “cynically using” #MeToo for attention added to a firestorm and made working with him impossible.
The company may eventually argue that the purpose of its agreement was frustrated — a colorable defense — but besides knocking Allen for being essentially tone-deaf, those contentions will come at a later point. For now, the goal is to trim any claim such as an alleged breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing that arises from the contract where damages can’t be independently asserted. For example, Amazon’s lawyer Robert Klieger attacks Allen’s claim that Amazon has been unjustly enriched from publicity of its relationship with the filmmaker.
“The Allen Film Agreements, however, expressly grant to Amazon the right to publicize those agreements, such that the written contracts cover the same subject matter as the alleged unjust enrichment,” he writes. “Moreover, the only ‘publicity’ that Plaintiffs plead relates to prior written contracts between Allen and Amazon that have been fully performed — not the Allen Film Agreements at issue in this action.”
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