Jerry Heller seeks more than $110 million in defamation suit
Former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller filed a defamation lawsuit Friday against the makers of Straight Outta Compton, seeking at least $110 million in damages.
Heller’s lawsuit — which names Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright, director F. Gary Gray, and Universal Studios, among others — also alleges trade libel, misappropriation of likeness, intentional and negligent interference with a prospective economic advantage, breach of contract, and copyright infringement, according to documents obtained by EW.
“The insidiousness of Defendants’ behavior is underscored by the fact that the Film may well become the largest globally grossing music-story based film ever,” the lawsuit reads. “The larger the success of the film, the greater the damages to [Heller], who has been and continues to be defamed, ridiculed, and robbed of his personal and financial rights to the extent that the intentional and egregious behavior of Defendants demands the imposing of punitive damages.”
Straight Outta Compton, which opened in August and has earned nearly $200 million worldwide, chronicles the beginnings of rap group N.W.A, their rise to fame, their breakup, and the budding solo careers of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Heller, the group’s first manager, is portrayed in the film by Paul Giamatti in a less-than-favorable light.
“The first concern is the falsity of a lot of the statements of the film that make him look like a sleazy, dishonest guy,” Heller’s lawyer Michael Shapiro tells EW. In a list of allegedly slanderous scenes, the lawsuit asserts that Heller is depicted as the “‘bad-guy’ in the movie who is solely responsible for the demise of N.W.A.” And the very usage of Heller’s name and likeness, without consent, is another purported violation.
The lawsuit also alleges a number of issues with the screenplay, claiming that Heller developed at least four drafts of the screenplay before and after the release of his 2006 memoir, Ruthless, with three other defendants: S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, and Xenon Pictures. The suit claims the screenplay was Heller’s property and was sold without his knowledge, and that parts from the screenplay and his memoir were used in the final Straight Outta Compton script (including a scene in which the group is harassed by police outside a recording studio).
There’s also a matter concerning Woods-Wright. The complaint alleges she and Heller signed mutual non-disparagement agreements in 1999; however the lawsuit alleges Woods-Wright has violated her side of the agreement by serving as a producer on the the film.
Compton was one of the biggest box office surprises of the year. The R-rated biopic held the No. 1 spot for three weeks and made over $160 million in the U.S. alone.
Lawyers for Universal and Gray, as well as Ice Cube’s publicist, declined to comment. Lawyers for Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, nor the latter’s publicist, immediately responded to requests for comment.