Borat can now claim “Legal Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” A judge in New York has dismissed a defamation case against Sacha Baron Cohen and the producer, Twentieth Century Fox, of the movie “Borat. Jeffrey Lemerond is shown in an extremely poor light in the movie as he screams “Go Away” and appears to flee Borat when he tries to hug him. Federal Judge Loretta Preska treated the film as the equivalent to a news story in order to dismiss the complaint. Cohen has largely been successful in a variety of court challenges to the film.
The movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” has generated a slew of lawsuits from people humiliated by their depictions, including South Carolina fraternity members, a Maryland driving instructor, Romanian villagers and an etiquette teacher. Click here.
Preska admitted that the film was hardly the BBC News Hour: noting that the film “employs as its chief medium a brand of humor that appeals to the most childish and vulgar in its viewers.” However, she still views the film as a quasi-newsworthy production.
Lemerond’s lawyer Eric Hecker said he will appeal: “We think New York law is clear that a corporation like Twentieth Century Fox is not entitled to pluck an otherwise anonymous citizen out of a crowd and subject him to public humiliation in order to make a buck.” It will make for an interesting challenge, perhaps a stronger appeal than the original complaint. The dismissal based on newsworthiness is quite novel in this case.
Preska has been very supportive of Cohen and the movie producers in other cases. She was the judge in the challenge filed by Romanian villagers, Nicolae Todorache and Spiridom Ciorebea. They are residents of Glod, a remote Romanian village. Gypsies inthe village were used as stand-ins for Kazakhs in the movie. Preska forced their lawyers to refile their complaint as insufficiently detailed. Click here.
Another case was brought in Mississippi. The challenge was brought by Ellen Johnson who attended a religious meeting where Cohen experiences a conversion. The court described the scene and claim:
The scene at issue in this case is near the end of the movie on Borat’s way to California when he stops at an actual Pentecostal camp meeting held in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The scene begins with excerpts from actual speeches given by Hon. Chip W. Pickering, Jr., a Mississippi member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Chief Justice James W. Smith, Jr. from the Mississippi Supreme Court. At this point in the movie, Borat is in despair after having discovered that Pamela Anderson is not a virgin and he seeks redemption at the camp meeting during which he acts as if he is converted by the minister and begins speaking in tongues along with other Pentecostals doing the same. While Borat appears to be experiencing this religious conversion, several members of the camp meeting, including the plaintiff, are shown in the film raising their arms in praise to God for Borat’s conversion.
In its two pages of text, the Complaint appears to assert four causes of action: (1) invasion of privacy for filming the plaintiff without her consent on July 10, 2005; (2) false light invasion of privacy by portraying the plaintiff in a way suggesting she knowingly participated in a mocking of her Pentecostal religion; (3) release of the film without the plaintiff’s permission because she did not sign a written release to appear in the film Borat, she was led to believe that the character Borat and his film crew were filming a “religious documentary” to be shown in a foreign country, and she was not told the true nature of the character Borat and the resulting film; and (4) gross negligence.
The court dismissed in August 2007 all of the claims except misappropriation and false light. It found that the depiction of the faithful crowd could be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and that they have a cognizable claim that their likeness of misappropriated for commercial purposes. However, federal judge W. Allen Pepper, Jr. dismissed the claims of intrusion upon seclusion and disclosure of private facts.
Notably, Cohen is now shooting his film Bruno where he plays a gay Austrian TV presenter, but he has caused outrage in a small Kansas town. Click here His fame has also reportedly made it more difficult to dupe people.
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