'The Butler' movie controversy rages on: Who's right?

Harvey Weinstein claims Warner Bros. is "bullying."

Have you heard about the controversy surrounding the upcoming release of the Lee Daniels-directed movie The Butler? The chances are, you probably have now, thanks to a hugely publicized effort by none other than Hollywood studio mogul Harvey Weinstein. What, exactly, is stuck in Harvey's craw now?

I say "now" simply because The Weinstein Company is definitely no stranger to battles with the MPAA. Remember Harvey Weinstein taking the MPAA to task over the "F" word uses in The King's Speech, or the decision to overturn an NC-17 ruling for TWC's Blue Valentine?

Yeah, this is nothing new, but it is interesting. Allow me to summarize: Next month, a movie called The Butler is set for release. This is a big-name film, and it stars none other than Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a butler who worked in The White House for more than 30 years. This movie is based on the real life White House butler Eugene Allen, by the way, so we're talking potentially major historical drama. Other cast members in The Butler include Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Oprah Winfrey, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda.

Now, here's what's essentially going on: Last week, it was decided that The Weinstein Company could not release The Butler under it's current title. Why? Because there is already a film called The Butler, a 1916 short film registered by Warner Bros. and this would be a violation of the MPAA's rules about similar or duplicate titles. Essentially, the idea is that movies with such similar (or the same) titles might confuse the general public. When this legal battle went into arbitration, Warner Bros. won, meaning if TWC wants to release The Butler next month, it must give the film a different title.

The whole situation is becoming a three ring circus, with Harvey Weinstein appearing on TV and bashing Warner Bros. for being a "bully" and MPAA chief Chris Dodd firing back that the whole situation was just "silly." Oh, and also: Harvey W. said the following on CBS This Morning:

I was asked by two executives at Warner Bros, which I’m happy to testify, that if I gave them the rights back to ‘The Hobbit’ they would drop the claim.

Oh snap! Now TWC has brought The Hobbit into it. Not sure I buy that argument, but hey, what do I know?

Well, I know that I think this entire situation is utterly ridiculous. How on earth would we (i.e. the General Public) be confused by these movie titles? I haven't seen the 1916 movie short The Butler...but oh, it was never released. What the heck, Warner Bros.? This all seems very petty and very, very personal. In this case, I have to say, I'm agreeing with Harvey Weinstein's decision to fight.

What do you think? Either way, if nothing else, this whole situation is generating a pretty hefty amount of additional publicity for the upcoming movie The Butler (which looks like a great film).

Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

Laurie P. is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has worked as a broadcast news anchor, reporter and producer, covering breaking news, world events and entertainment stories.

Comments

Shouldn't there be a moritorium on film titles?  I've seen movies before with the same name, I wonder how those got through.  It sounds like a political thing, particularly if the Hobbit claims are true.  Someone needs to smack some common sense into Hollywood.  I can just see the movie business in another 20 years, when all the titles are used up.  They'll start spell things in text message speak.  Maybe "Teh Butlr" would work?

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Excellent idea with the text message speaking idea. Or what about Pig Latin: "Ethay Utlerbay." We need to get this to Harvey, immediately. The whole situation is truly insane and I can only hope it helps what honestly looks like a great film - instead of overshadows it. I don't get why or how we can have 1995's "Heat" and then 2013's "The Heat" - case by case situation smacks of politics, yes. I'm still not sure on HW's Hobbit claims, but this just stinks.

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I've already seen a trailer for this flick at the theater.  You'd think that WB would have brought this issue up before the trailers were put together and aired.  There is, after all, a couple of years while people make the actual film to bring this crap up.  Unless they did warn them and TWC just decided to bet on winning his case, which would have been quite the million dollar gamble.

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