Cinema has been around for over 100 years, and when you’re dealing with that kind of timeframe, there’s no doubt that certain film titles are going to overlap, assuming the title isn’t something completely out there, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There was drama when Paul Haggis called his Oscar-winning film Crash>, since David Cronenberg had already used that title for his car accident fetish drama. The producers behind Neil Burger’s 2006 ghostly drama The Illusionist got prickly when it became clear French director Sylvain Chomet’s L’illusionniste would be plainly translated for its release in the U.S. Both of these film pairs couldn’t feature movies more disparate in subject matter, so anyone who mistakes them just isn’t paying enough attention.
But if you manage to mix up Lee Daniels’ upcoming politically-centered biopic The Butler and Warner Bros’ 1916 silent short film of the same name, then maybe you should stop reading this story and call your doctor.
But wait! Deadline reports that may never be an issue for you, as Warner is attempting to stop The Weinstein Company from releasing Daniels’ film by that name, claiming title rights. Are you kidding me? 1916’s The Butler was produced by Lubin Manufacturing Company and distributed by General Film Company, and didn’t even end up in the Warner library until years later. (Incidentally, IMDB lists an Edison Films’ produced short also called The Butler that came out the year before, so if anybody was guilty of title infringement…)
It’s definitely a dick move on Warner’s part, especially since TWC so graciously allowed Warner to keep the title of their film The Good Lie despite it sounding like the TWC film The Good Life. In this case, Warner insiders, while assumedly sticking their noses in the air, say TWC should have tried to clear the title earlier, and that they’re protecting their rights because they can. Ugh.
Deadline says TWC appealed to Warner on behalf of the late film producer Laura Ziskin, whose last film was The Butler, and Daniels also gave a personal appeal, but neither one was successful.
Daniels co-wrote the screenplay with Danny Strong, adapting the Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served By This Election,” which chronicled part of the life of longtime White House butler Eugene Allen, who was invited back to D.C. to take part in Obama’s first inauguration. Granted, The Butler is a plain Jane title that doesn’t really do much for the imagination, but that’s how award-buzzed prestige films work. Got a noun? Slap a “the” on it and dust off your trophy shelf.
An arbitration will be scheduled soon, but it doesn’t appear that Warner will be backing down, which is unfortunate, since Daniels’s film is set to release on August 16. If you haven’t seen the star-studded trailer yet, take a look below, and let us know what you think about this story in the poll beneath the trailer.