Throwback Thursday: Hollywood’s History of Libel

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One lesson my Media Law class imparted on me was the seriousness of libel law, defamation and the lengths some are willing to go to change venue and affect the burden of proof. A serious legal implication for the media, libel law is designed to protect the image of the innocent against false defamation. That’s why Andrew Greene has a case against Martin Scorsese and Paramount Pictures. The Wolf of Wall Street’s former business partner, Greene is suing the production teams of The Wolf of Wall Street for including him and his persona in the film without his consent. His persona was included in the book that inspired the film, but Greene never gave his permission for inclusion in either works. Because the film uses his real name and likeness, Greene is suing for false defamation to the tune of $25 million.

This Throwback Thursday, let’s take a look at some of the other high profile cases of studios incorrectly portraying people’s character and personas.


Though the stars of the Titanic, the second highest grossing film worldwide of all time, are purported to be fictitious, many of the minor characters in the film were real people and historic figures. For the most part, the history of the film rings true; such accurate nuances as the lost binoculars and the way the ship sank are peppered throughout the film. One glaring, inflammatory mistake, though, is the death of William McMaster Murdoch, the ship’s first officer. The film shows Murdoch committing suicide, which, according to the accounts of several eye witnesses, did not happen. Murdoch is reported to have been freeing lifeboats and helping passengers into them until he was swept off the boat as it sunk. To apologize to Murdoch’s family, studio executives flew to his home town in Scotland and commemorated a plaque to his honor and memory.


The Social Network

Famously quoted as saying “The only thing they got right were the clothes on my back,” Mark Zuckerberg was less than thrilled with his salty portrayal in the film. Based on a loosely-fact based book written from Eduardo Saverin’s perspective, little of the end or source material is factual, and the production teams have admitted to highly editorializing the story to be more appealing to audiences.


Dream Girls

Berry Gordy, Jr., founder of Motown was happy to receive an apology for the portrayal of Motown’s early years in the Dream Girls film. Upon receiving the apology, Gordy Jr. said “I applaud DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures for doing their part, to clearly differentiate the fictional movie Dream Girls from the real Motown. I wish them all the best in the forthcoming Academy Awards.”


Cover Photo Source:  Ian S via Creative Commons

Mary is an Assistant Account Executive at SJG. She earned her BA in Communication from the University of Evansville in 2013. In her spare time, when she’s not engulfing novels in a coffee shop, Mary feels most at home celebrating life and love with her family and friends, and visiting the streets of Paris in her dreams.