Director of Nina Simone Film Sues Over Production Company's Hijacking (Exclusive)

Zoe Saldana Nina Simone - H 2012
Getty Images

Zoe Saldana Nina Simone - H 2012

Cynthia Mort is taking legal action after being cut out of decision-making on a biopic about legendary jazz singer Nina Simone that she spent years trying to develop. Although Nina still is being credited to her, Mort is unhappy she's being associated with a movie starring Zoe Saldana that she doesn't like and is now out of her hands.

On Tuesday, the director's loan-out company filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court alleging that Ealing Studios Enterprises Limited, the U.K. producer behind Nina, has breached the terms of her director deal.

Read the Lawsuit Here
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Nina will receive a premiere market screening at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday. The timing of the lawsuit might not be coincidental.

According to the complaint, Mort, who co-wrote the feature film The Brave One and has worked on shows including Will and Grace and Roseanne, optioned Simone's life story in 2005. That was two years after the singer behind such classics as Feeling Good and Sinner Man died. Mort says she worked for years to get the movie off the ground. It would not only cover Simone's singing career, but also her role as a dedicated civil rights activist.

From 2005 through 2012, Mort worked with Paramount Pictures, and after she was quitclaimed rights to the film by the studio, she assigned them to Ealing and Nina Productions and executed a director agreement to work on the picture.

The lawsuit paints the portrait of a director who gained broad rights over the developing picture. She allegedly got approval rights over the final shooting script, the cast and crew, the line producer, the designer and all department heads. She is said to have been given consulting rights on advertising, distribution, shooting schedule and budget.

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"She worked tirelessly to prepare the Film for a wide and successful commercial release," says the lawsuit. "Yet, throughout the course of the Film's production and post-production, Defendants consistently acted to frustrate Mort's involvement in the Film, thereby breaching the Director Agreement. These breaches by the Defendants include, but are not limited to: taking complete control of editing the Film in June 2013 and failing to consult with Mort about subsequent cuts and changes; abandoning Mort's previous cuts of the Film; failing to disclose the Film's financials, finishing budget, and financing deals; and failing to keep Mort informed of other crucial creative and budgetary developments and decisions throughout production and post-production of the Film."

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The lawsuit filed by attorney Howard Weitzman says that as a result, the film slated to be released March 31, 2014, doesn't reflect Mort's vision of Simone as a woman, musician and civil rights activist. She's asking for unspecified monetary damages as well as a declaration that the defendants can't make decisions without her meaningful approval and consultation.

We'll provide the response from the defendants if we hear any.