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Harvey Weinstein goes to war with Warner Brothers over ‘The Butler’

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein / Getty

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/ By Albert Hecht /

Weinstein is reportedly livid at the long-established movie giant as they make every effort to block the release of “The Butler” a film to be distributed by the film production and distribution company that he heads. Warner’s objection to the film being released is that they have already released a film of the same name. What is making Weinstein wild is that the original “Butler” was released almost one hundred years ago.

One thing you can say about Harvey Weinstein is that he knows how to recognize a bestselling movie, and is prepared to back up his gut feelings with considerable investment. Having just invested $1 billion in the production of what looks like being the classic movie of 2013, and with just a few weeks to go before its preview, Weinstein has been dealt a hammer blow by Warners.

The film in question goes by the simple title of “The Butler” and tells the true story of Eugene Allen, an African-American servant who worked at the White House from 1952 to 1986 during which time he served eight Presidents from Dwight D Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan.

With the movie industry anticipating the arrival of the film and trailers already been released throughout the United States, it now appears that the powerful Motion Picture Association of America has placed a block on the release of the film, at least using that title after considerable pressure from Warner Brothers, who claimed that they owned the exclusive rights to the title, based on the short film that they released in 1916.

When the news first hit the set of The Butler about Warner’s attempted block the first reaction came from director Lee Daniels, who apparently attempted to appeal to the better judgment of Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros. Entertainment’s CEO with the literature in argument and putting up what appears to be a legitimate argument that being forced to change the title of the movie just a few weeks before release would be a cause of tremendous confusion, that would be liable to have a dramatic effect on the number of people going to see the move.

According to reports, Daniels wrote a personal letter to Tsujihara, begging him to show a level of flexibility, especially as the film carried such a strong message to America’s minority communities, of which he too was a member.

In his letter addressed not only to Tsujihara, but also to other top Warner film executives Sue Kroll, Dan Fellman and Greg Silverman, and posted on the website, Daniels pointed out that “‘The Butler’ is not only a story about a black family and black history; it is a universal story about family and American history.

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.” Daniels summed up his appeal

At this stage it appears that Daniels’ appeal has fallen on deaf ears, meaning that Weinstein has taken the next stage in making sure that the film is released with the title designated to it.

When hopefully “The Butler, ” is released, and with its original title, it will boast a star studded cast with Forest Whitaker taking the role of Eugene Allen with Oprah Winfrey playing his wife, in her first movie role since 1988. Other cast members are some of the film industry’s leading actors and actresses including Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda.

What industry observers are pointing out is the unfairness of the timing of the Warner Brothers’ claim is that they were well aware that the working title for the movie has always been ” The Butler”, a fact that has been common knowledge for some time.

In order to make sure that this will happen Western has called on the services of one of California’s most powerful lawyers David Boies to find a way that Warner’s can be convinced to reverse their decision.  Boies has a strong reputation for getting his own way recently been involved in the high profile case which saw the same-sex marriage ban in California’s being overthrown.

Meanwhile a number of calloused Hollywood reporters have already been heard to observe that if Daniels, Weinstein and Boies combined fail  to convince Tsujihara and Warner Brothers to change their mind on the issue, then they will have no option but to release Oprah on them.



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