Hollywood & Crime - B.B. King Sued For Attempting To Stop Biopic (But Not His)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 10, 2012 1:46 PM
8 Comments
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And just as I posted an entry taking a look at the 50+ biopics based on the lives of public black figures, wondering which, if any of them, would be made, with one of the prevalent hold-ups being interference from families of the subject, estates, other influential figures, and, in some cases, the subject themselves. Read it HERE if you haven't.

B.B. King is reportedly being sued for "interfering with his autobiographical film," B.B. King and I - a project previously featured on this site when star of the film, Wendell Pierce, announced his attachment on Twitter last year.

Here's a recap:

The film is said to be based on the real-life events that led to B.B. King receiving his Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Its synopsis, courtesy of the film's Facebook page (which you can "Like" HERE) reads:

Follow the journey of a young musician from the heartland of America to the dream laden streets of Hollywood where fate and a handshake led, a decade later, to a sunny day on Hollywood Boulevard that impacts the life of this legendary entertainer...

As already noted, Wendell Pierce will star as B. B. King & Patrick Fugit will co-star as a character named “Michael," with "Michael" being the "I" in B. B. King And IMichael Zanetis is listed as the film's co-screenwriter and producer, so I figured he was the "Michael" in the story; and further digging led me to THIS 1988 LA Times article titled Friendship Brings B.B. King to New Nightclub.

The content of the piece highlights the friendship that blossomed between B. B. King and Michael Zanetis - a once jazz-rock drummer, who would eventually become a nightclub owner where B. B. King later played.

THR says that the production company behind thhe film, King Size Film Production, filed the lawsuit last week in California federal court, stating that, "B.B. King has been attempting to use his trademarks and rights of publicity to interfere with the First Amendment right to tell the true story of Michael Zanetis."

The film, which is being co-produced by Frank Capra III, the grandson of you know who, really centers on Zanetis' life, not King's, and is described in the complaint as "inextricably interwoven with the story of his relationship with B.B. King."

More from THR:

Zanetis moved from the Indiana farmlands to the California beaches in 1977 to pursue his dream of working in the music business. B.B. King's son, Willie, is said to have arranged a chance meeting between Zanetis and his father, which sparked a three decades long relationship. King helped his young follower cope with his father's death, performed at the opening of the Michael's Supper Club (a California venue founded by Zanetis), and inspired his career in the music industry. In turn, Zanetis purportedly made a promise to King to help the musician get a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, which happened in 1990. In 2006, Zanetis wrote the screenplay, B.B. King and I, and shared it with King, who autographed the cover.

However, despite his apparent, alleged approval, as of last summer, King doesn't want the movie to proceed, and filed a cease-and-desist letter via his attorney. Why?

The letter states that the film violates trademarks, anticybersquatting laws, and King's publicity rights.

This obviously caused some problems for the project, notably, a delay in production, and financing efforts.

The lawsuit continues:

The plaintiff calls King's demands "a remarkable one -- one that would radically alter the law and strike a severe blow to expressive and artistic freedom.. it would also deem as infringing many celebrated works across multiple creative mediums, including the Academy Award nominated movie My Week with Marilyn, Richard Linklater's critically acclaimed film Me and Orson Welles, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera's international pop hit 'Moves Like Jagger' and Kim Carnes's Grammy Award winning classic 'Bettie Davis Eyes.'"

So what's really going on here, if King initially allegedly was game for the project, and then later changed his mind? I dunno... I guess he wants his name and image removed from the project entirely; but does he have that legal right in this specific case? I wonder if he even has script approval.

THR says B.B. King couldn't immediately be reached for comment, though I'm sure there'll be a reply soon enough.

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8 Comments

  • HAQI | April 16, 2012 12:35 AMReply

    THIS IS EXACTY WHY BB IS UPSET, YOU WANT HIM TO COSIGN A MOVIE THAT DOES NOT GET MADE UNLESS HES IN IT BUT THERE IS NO MOVIE ABOUT THIS BLUES LEGEND WHO IS SAID TO HAVE INFLUENCED MANY GREATS? BB KING, HOLD YOUR GROUND ELDER, HOLD YOUR GROUND!!!

  • Miles Ellison | April 12, 2012 9:35 PMReply

    Here's a novel idea. Find the money to make a movie about BB King instead. His story is a lot more interesting than the story of some white nobody.

  • Haq | April 16, 2012 12:35 AM

    THIS IS EXACTY WHY BB IS UPSET, YOU WANT HIM TO COSIGN A MOVIE THAT DOES NOT GET MADE UNLESS HES IN IT BUT THERE IS NO MOVIE ABOUT THIS BLUES LEGEND WHO IS SAID TO HAVE INFLUENCED MANY GREATS? BB KING, HOLD YOUR GROUND ELDER, HOLD YOUR GROUND!!!

  • Laura | April 11, 2012 9:52 PMReply

    Um, yeah right. The "true story of Michael Zanetis" --if I was Mr. King I would also sue.

  • Miles Ellison | April 10, 2012 8:23 PMReply

    Now someone needs to stop that Ol' Dirty Bastard "biopic".

  • Donella | April 10, 2012 3:09 PMReply

    "true story of Michael Zanetis" LOL @ this. Sounds like bait and switch to me. No wonder B.B. King put the brakes on if the film is really about Michael Zanetis. B.B. may just object to his name, image, reputation, or music put on the line and diluted to tell someone else's story.Wendell Pierce might need to step up and ensure that respect is shown to the blues king.

  • LaLa | April 10, 2012 2:02 PMReply

    Er...why exactly do you have this filed under Hollywood & Crime? It's a civil lawsuit.

  • JMac | April 10, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    Good - that BB fought against the film. Maybe he later discovered his character was just a side piece and the film is begging to be another white savior movie. Word to the wise for other subjects of black biopics. Too bad Abilene Cooper waited too late before The Help became a hit.

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