In the early 1990s, music journalist Kevin Powell wrote a series of articles for Vibe magazine — “Exclusive: Is Tupac Crazy or Just Misunderstood,” “Tupac Shakur Jailhouse Exclusive” and “Live from Deathrow.” These stories are now the backbone of the almost mythical story of slain rapper Tupac Shakur’s life.
On June 16, a new Tupac biopic titled “All Eyez on Me” opened nationwide, and Powell now claims the filmmakers lifted the plot from his articles.
On Friday, he filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court in New York against Lionsgate, Program Pictures, Morgan Creek Pictures and producers and screenwriters of the film.
What’s truly strange is the evidence he offered to back up his claim. Powell admitted that one of the characters in his nonfiction magazine articles, a man by the name of Nigel, was fictitious. That same nonexistent character, he said, showed up in the film, proving that the filmmakers stole his story.
“While some of the content in these articles was factual, some portions of the article were changed or embellished,” the lawsuit stated, adding that these “are stories with fictional characters and re-worked narratives.”
Powell’s articles feature “a fictional character named Nigel, based on a real person named Jacques ‘Haitian Jack’ Agnant,” the lawsuit stated, adding that Powell’s articles featured “details of Nigel and Tupac’s relationship that have not been published by anyone else.”
As the lawsuit stated, factual, historical events cannot be copyrighted, but fiction can.
And in this case, “the name and character of ‘Nigel’ … was specifically created … without the authority or encouragement of Tupac Shakur. This made-up character of Nigel was the embellishment of a real-life character that was central to the narrative” and was “copied and pasted into” the film.
The lawsuit also pointed to other similarities between Powell’s articles and the movie, such as the fact that the dialogue in both was “fast and heavy laden with the use of metaphorical slang and strong language, including … liberal use of the f-word, indicative of the way rappers in the 1990’s talk” and was “intense, honest and revealing.”
“After viewing the movie twice in the past few days, it is clear that my exclusive Vibe cover stories on Tupac Shakur (when he was alive), were lifted, without proper credit or compensation of any kind to me,” Powell wrote on Facebook.
The defendants have not issued a statement on the lawsuit.
This is the latest potential black eye for a film that has amassed many. It made a middling $26 million in its first weekend, gaining only an additional $12 million since.
Part of the issue might be its brutal reviews.
Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com called it “one of the most useless music biopics ever made,” adding that it was directed “with minuscule passion and a ruthless 140-minute running time.” Vulture’s Emily Yoshida wrote that it was “rarely more than a faithful adaptation of the rapper’s Wikipedia entry, so fixated on name-checking every footnote of Shakur’s public life that there is no space to explore the experience of the man himself.” Glenn Kenny wrote in the New York Times that “the movie is genuinely distasteful in its casual misogyny when depicting the sexual abuse case for which Shakur was convicted in 1994.”
Or perhaps the film’s struggles can be explained by celebrity friends of Tupac who have railed against the film.
The most high-profile was Jada Pinkett-Smith. The actress attended the Baltimore School of the Arts with Tupac, and in the film, he gives her a poem he wrote for her. Pinkett-Smith said that never happened.
“Forgive me … my relationship to Pac is too precious to me for the scenes in All Eyez On Me to stand as truth,” she tweeted. “Pac never read me that poem. I didn’t know that poem existed until it was printed in his book.”
She added that a scene in the film in which she argues with Tupac never occurred.
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