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When Subject Becomes Plaintiff: Joyce McKinney Sues Errol Morris Over ‘Tabloid’

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist November 4, 2011 at 1:06PM

Well, she’s been threatening it for months now (but with her, how do you know what she’ll actually do?), but it’s actually come to pass: Joyce McKinney, the subject of Errol Morris’ outstandingly odd “Tabloid,” is suing the director for, among many other things, “likeness, defamation, misrepresentation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.” “Tabloid” is the story of McKinney’s life, specifically an incident in 1977 when she flew to England to retrieve her boyfriend, who was on missionary work for the Mormon church and who claimed, later, that he had been kidnapped and raped by McKinney. The story became a sensation in England, where it was dubbed the “Manacle Mormon” story or, more luridly, the “Sex in Chains” scandal (McKinney reportedly restrained her boyfriend).
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Well, she’s been threatening it for months now (but with her, how do you know what she’ll actually do?), but it’s actually come to pass: Joyce McKinney, the subject of Errol Morrisoutstandingly oddTabloid,” is suing the director for, among many other things, “likeness, defamation, misrepresentation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.” “Tabloid” is the story of McKinney’s life, specifically an incident in 1977 when she flew to England to retrieve her boyfriend, who was on missionary work for the Mormon church and who claimed, later, that he had been kidnapped and raped by McKinney. The story became a sensation in England, where it was dubbed the “Manacle Mormon” story or, more luridly, the “Sex in Chains” scandal (McKinney reportedly restrained her boyfriend).

While the film does make McKinney out to be something of a loon, she’s given virtually the entire film’s running time to tell her side of the story (and from what we understand, some of the really outrageous stuff, things that would make her look really bad, was left on the cutting room floor), with the movie giving a “Rashomon”-like view of the case with several other interviewees who were involved. McKinney claims that she was initially approached to be involved in a Showtime series that would “clear her name” in connection with the scandal, and while the movie was initially thought of for a larger piece, we can’t imagine Morris making a claim like that at the start of an interview.

McKinney is also claiming that two people working for Morris (Ajae Clearway and Mark Lipson) stole personal items and other material that was used for the movie, and, more bizarrely, alleges that Lipson promised to save one of McKinney’s service dogs that was set to be put to sleep at a pound, but then did nothing, taunting her about the dog’s death after it happened. Jesus.

What’s really interesting is the suit describes an event last year that we actually attended. During last year’s screening of “Tabloid” at the NYC DOC film festival, we would hear periodic catcalls from the audience – things like “Liar!” and “Untrue!” After the movie, during the Q&A with Morris, McKinney stood up, to rapturous applause, and began to make her way down to the stage, with (presumably) one of the cloned dogs from the documentary. When she got to the stage, she was initially met warmly, and hugged Morris. Then things got ugly: McKinney started spouting conspiratorial nonsense about the dangers of the Mormon church and how Morris had unfairly portrayed her. It was amazing how quickly the crowd turned on her, and how Morris let her say her piece, even as she became more agitated (and her cloned dog peed on the stage).

The suit claims that she flew to the screening to see the film for the fist time and afterwards became “distressed” at “having been deceived.” She's also as recently as July, been attending screenings with Morris. McKinney is seeking unspecified compensatory punitive and other damages as well as civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, and court costs. “Tabloid” was just released this week on DVD. Make of that what you will. [Deadline]

This article is related to: Errol Morris, Tabloid


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