News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox Film won an appeals-court ruling affirming the dismissal of three lawsuits filed by people who claimed they were emotionally harmed by appearing in the “Borat” movie.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York upheld the dismissals from last year in an order today. People who appeared in the film, including those in a dinner-party scene in which the protagonist presents a bag of feces, also sued for fraud and unjust enrichment, according to the ruling. They argued the ambiguity of “documentary-style film” in signed releases meant the lower court couldn’t rely on them to dismiss the litigation.
“While the character ‘Borat’ is fictional, the film unmistakably tells the story of his travels in the style of a traditional, fact-based documentary,” the appeals court wrote. “Indeed, the film’s stylistic similarity to the straight documentary form is among its central comedic conceits, employed to set the protagonist’s antics in high relief.”
“It’s disappointing,” Adam J. Richards, a lawyer for six of the seven plaintiffs, said of the ruling in a phone interview. “It allows well-financed parties such as Twentieth Century Fox to outright lie to people and rely on, in my opinion, an ambiguously worded document to get by the lies.”
The appeals court found the plaintiffs couldn’t claim the filmmakers fraudulently induced them into signing the releases because they didn’t try to verify what they were told by, for example, asking to meet the “reporter” or learn his name.
“They would have lied to him,” Levine said of his client Psenicska. “To use clear language like ‘mock documentary’ or ‘mockumentary’ would have given the game away. They were clearly trying to use obsfucation.”
While I agree that the plaintiffs should have maybe had a little common sense before jumping in front of the camera, I really hope Sasha Baron Cohen remains the only one making these obviously subversive movies. They work, but only because the makers are doing things everyone knows are completely wrong.