A foundation representing Sudanese child refugees claims that the producers behind last year’s “The Good Lie” used their life stories yet reneged on an agreement to pay them.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, the Foundation for Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan and 54 refugees contend that they gave interviews as the project was being developed and were promised that that the foundation would be the sole beneficiary of any fundraising efforts associated with the movie.
“However, neither the refugees nor their foundation have been compensated in any fashion for sharing their traumatic personal stories and assisting with the creation of the script for ‘The Good Lie,'” the lawsuit states.
The suit says that during a videotaped meeting on April 15, 2013, with Molly Smith of Black Label Media, one of the production companies behind the movie, she said, “The most important thing that was said here today was you asked a question, ‘Do you feel you should be compensated for your story?’ And the answer I can say, because it’s my company and my studio, is absolutely.”
Black Label is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with a series of other companies involved in its production including Imagine Entertainment, Reliance Big Entertainment and Alcon Entertainment. Although Imagine Entertainment, director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer’s production company, is named, Howard and Grazer are not.
“Regrettably, the plaintiffs and their attorneys have made claims that are not supported by the facts or the law,” a spokeswoman for Black Label said in a statement. “These claims have no merit and will be addressed in due course by the Court. “
The lawsuit contends that back in 2003, the refugees participated in audio and video interviews as the project was being developed by producer Robert Newmyer and screenwriter Margaret Nagle. It claims that they made a joint venture agreement back then, including a promise to get the refugees’ consent before moving forward with the production. The agreement also called for charitable donations and funds to be directed to a nonprofit foundation set up by the refugees, according to the claim.
Newmyer died suddenly in 2005, and the project was put on hold until 2013. By then, it had landed at the new production companies, including Black Label Media. The lawsuit claims that the new producers were aware of their obligations under the joint venture agreement.
The lawsuit claims that Smith in 2013 offered $1 million to “satisfy and comply with the joint venture agreement,” but that Black Label and other companies later refused to negotiate the figure. It contends that the counsel for Alcon, Black Label and Good Lie Prods. told them, “Our clients have never agreed to pay any law firm, Lost Boy, or organization for Black Label Media’s own copyrighted work.”
But according to the complaint, Nathaniel Chol Nyok, one of the refugees who contributed to the project, saw a trailer and noted that a scene of an attack on a village with boys in the trees came from his story. It also contends that Nagle took the refugees’ jokes and casual conversations and used them in the script.
Nagle and Deborah Newmyer, executrix of Newmyer’s estate, are among those also named as defendants. A representative for Nagle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update: Through a spokeswoman, Black Label issued this statement:
“We are very proud of our film, ‘The Good Lie,’ which was inspired by the stories of thousands of Lost Boys and Girls living here in America. We are equally proud of the great charitable endeavors of the Good Lie Fund, which was created by the filmmakers to support organizations of Lost Boys and Girls both here in America and in Africa. To date the fund has distributed in excess of $500,000 for the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, as well as for many of the accredited 501c3 charitable organizations who support Lost Boys and Girls here in America. We have been fortunate to have the support of countless Lost Boys and Girls throughout the United States who have supported this film and the Good Lie Fund. Regrettably, the plaintiffs and their attorneys have made claims that are not supported by the facts or the law. These claims have no merit and will be addressed in due course by the court. “