'The Butler' Battle: Director Lee Daniels Pleads His Case To Warner Bros.' Kevin Tsujihara
Further ratcheting up the Weinstein Company’s campaign to force Warner Bros. into granting it permission to call its upcoming Lee Daniels’ film The Butler, the director has sent a letter to Warner Bros. Entertainment’s new CEO Kevin Tsujihara in which Daniels argues that if TWC has to change the movie’s title “it will most certainly hurt the film.”
On Tuesday following an arbitration, the MPAA’s Title Registry Bureau ruled that TWC could not use the title because it’s also the name of a pre-existing 1916 short film that now resides in the Warner Bros. library.
In response, attorney David Boies, who is representing TWC in the dispute, fired off letters to the MPAA and Warners earlier Wednesday threatening litigation.
Daniels’ letter takes a different tack, pleading his case by describing the film, which stars Forest Whitaker and is based on the true story of Eugene Allen, who spent 34 years working at the White House until he retired as head butler, as a film he made “so I could show my kids, my family and my country some of the injustices and victories African-Americans and their families have experienced in the fight for Civil Rights.” The movie, he continued, “tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement from the sit-ins and the Freedom Riders, to Selma, Martin Luther King’s assassination and the election of the first Black president.”
Daniels wrote that while working on the film “is the proudest moment of my professional career, I am heartbroken as I write this letter.” He explained that the modestly budgeted movie is not intended to be a blockbuster and “if we were to change the title a mere six weeks before we open, it would most certainly hurt the film by limiting the number of people who would ultimately see this important story.”
Offering to screen the movie for Tsujihara, Daniels said, “I truly believe that once you watch it, you would not want to cause this film any harm.”
Daniels concluded the letter by adding he has the support of its stars Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and David Oyelowo as well as the film's screenwriter Danny Strong. Copies also were sent to Warners executives Sue Kroll, Greg Silverman and Dan Fellman.
TWC offered no further comment on the letter, a copy of which was provided to The Hollywood Reporter. Warners has declined to comment on the situation.