‘The Butler’ battle heats up with David Boies in fight for movie title

July 3, 2013

You know it’s getting serious when they call in David Boies.

The superlawyer, who repped Al Gore in the 2000 recount, the feds in the Microsoft trial and same-sex marriage advocates in the Prop 8 battle, has another big Washington case (well, sort of) on his plate: Fighting for the White House biopic “The Butler” to keep its name amid a challenge from a rival movie studio.

Forest Whitaker in a publicity still from the 2013 movie “The Butler.” (Anne Marie Fox)

The MPAA ruled Tuesday that Warner Brothers has the right to the title because it was the name of a 1916 silent comedy. (You remember, that Davy Don/Patsy De Forest classic. . . er, no?)

WB’s unexpected challenge over the name came just six weeks before the Weinstein Co. is set to release “The Butler,” the story of Eugene Allen, who served eight presidents over 34 years. Starring Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey as well as a slew of A-listers in small roles, the movie is based on a 2008 Washington Post story by our colleague Wil Haygood, an associate producer of the project.


David Boies in 2011. (Patrick McDermott / Getty Images)

While the ruling suggested the new “Butler” would have to change its name — no easy feat after months of previews and publicity — Weinstein Company announced late Tuesday it will appeal the ruling with the help of Boies. The lawyer’s statement, according to Hollywood Reporter: “The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between The Weinstein Co.’s 2013 feature movie and a 1917 [sic] short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense. The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy.” (Update, 7/4: Taking a more conciliatory tone, Lee Daniels, the director of “The Butler,” sent a personal appeal to the CEO of Warner Brothers Tuesday asking him to view the film and reconsider, Deadline reports.)

What’s this all about anyway? Hollywood — who knows! But a Deadline.com story suggested some history, in which Weinstein balked at Warner Brothers’ calling a forthcoming Reese Witherspoon flick “The Good Lie” because of similarities to its own property, “The Good Life,” from a couple years back.

Warner Brothers had no comment on the matter.

Earlier: New movie ‘The Butler’ loses its title in arbitration case, 7/2/13

‘The Butler’: A labor of love becomes an unlikely A-list production, 10/18/12

Read the original 2008 story: A butler well served by this election, 11/7/08

More Reliable Source: Sequoia; Paula Deen; Venus Williams; first ladies’ summit; Pitbull; Elena Kagan; Monica Lewinsky; Newsbabes

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Michael Livingston · July 3, 2013