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Out of the Furnace, the film released earlier this month starring Christian Bale, hit too close to home for members of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation.
Seventeen members of the Native American tribe located in New York and New Jersey filed a defamation lawsuit on Monday, alleging that the movie portrayed them in a false light.
The film features Bale tracking his younger brother played by Casey Affleck who has been lured into a ruthless crime ring led by the evil character of Harlan De Groat, played by Woody Harrelson. The group is identified as the Jackson Whites and described as a community of “inbreds.”
Officials of the Ramapough tribe have previously called the film a “hate crime” and urged a boycott. In response, Relativity Media has said the film is “entirely fictional” and not meant to portray any particular group.
But the plaintiffs aren’t satisfied.
Eight of them have DeGroat surnames. Two of the other plaintiffs are named Van Dunk, another gang member name in the film. The lawsuit says these surnames are common among the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, which has pejoratively been referred to as “Jackson Whites.”
“The Defendants, and each of them, knew or should have known that their actions would place Plaintiffs, and/or any person so situated in a false light.,” says the lawsuit. “The connection between the ethnic slur of ‘Jackson Whites’, with the location of the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey’, with a Bergen County Police patrol car, with the surnames ‘DeGroat’ and ‘Van Dunk’, is too specific to the Ramapough plaintiffs to be chance, coincidence or happenstance, and implies an element of knowledge on the part of the Defendants, or some of them.”
The suing members of the tribe say they have been subject to historical discrimination. According to the lawsuit, “Among other discrimination, they were forced to attend segregated schools in Mahwah, New Jersey until the 1930s and the Hillburn school was only integrated in the 1940s when Thurgood Marsahll, acting for the NAACP, filed an action challenging that segregation.”
Battling against the potential defense that the movie was fictional, the plaintiffs cite an interview where director/writer Scott Cooper said “the character of Harlan DeGroat is based upon someone ‘who has been in my family’s life.’” Cooper added that he had Harrelson do research “about people in that area of the country” and “watch some documentaries.”
Here’s a copy of the lawsuit seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
A Relativity spokesperson said the company hasn’t had a chance to review the complaint and couldn’t comment at this time.
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