If you were looking forward to seeing Lee Daniels' new film The Butler when it hits theaters this August, you might be buying tickets for a film with a completely different name: According to Vulture, Warner Bros. is attempting to force the Weinstein Company-produced project to change the name of the film, citing that the title has already been used—as the title of a short comedy film that was released in 1916, nearly 100 years ago.
According to Deadline, the Weinstein Company has reportedly already secured high-power attorny David Boies to fight the case, and explore the possibility that Warner Bros.' motive is to stifle business on a film that has already been widely advertised under a specific title. "The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between TWC’s 2013 feature movie and a 1917 short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense," Boies commented in a statement. "The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy."
Daniels has also made a very public appeal to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara in the form of a letter, pleading with the studio to see the film at their "earliest convenience" before attempting to strip it of its title. The letter is quite heartfelt, and worth a read:
Dear Mr. Tsujihara:
I have spent the last four years of my life working on the film, The Butler, and it is the proudest moment of my professional career. I am heartbroken as I write this letter to you. I made this film 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. There are so few depictions of strong black families in our cinematic history and it was of paramount importance to make this movie about a family who endured and survived unimaginable discrimination in their quest for the American Dream. Through the eyes of this loving and hard-working African American family, the film 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. THE BUTLER is not only a story about a black family and black history; it is a universal story about family and OUR history.
I am so proud of this movie. Every member of our cast worked for almost nothing so that this story could be told with only our very small budget. 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. This movie is not a blockbuster, nor did we intend it to be. We just wanted to tell the dark and beautiful story of our nation’s racial history, where we came from, and how far we have come.
Our brilliant writer Danny Strong, amazing cast, and I would like to offer to screen our movie for you today. I beg you to see it before you decide to force us to change the title. I truly believe that once you watch it, you would not want to cause this film any harm. I feel that if this film can succeed and reach people’s hearts, it will only help pave the way for other films that strive to educate and inspire, just as THE HELP and your very own 42 has done for us. These films, along with the upcoming fall releases of MANDELA, FRUITVALE STATION, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, serve as crucial moments in film and Black history. An artistic movement is afoot. THE BUTLER is a part of this and I plead you not to hurt the chances of this story reaching as many hearts as it possibly can.
I have great admiration for your studio and the films you make. I believe you would not be disputing the title if you did not feel just in doing so. I am sure there are behind-the-scenes issues of which I am not aware, but I simply want you to know how deeply it is affecting the artists involved and the message we all fought so hard to share.
I truly hope you will accept my invitation to see the film at your earliest convenience. I strongly believe that if you do, you will root for it not just as film lovers, but as proud Americans.
With all the love in my heart,
With the support of:
Cuba Gooding, Jr.
cc: Dan Fellman
You can check out the already widely released trailer for The Butler here.