Universal’s Straight Outta Compton proved arguably the surprise hit of the summer. The biopic chronicling the rise of legendary rap group N.W.A drew in audiences with its gripping tale of brotherhood and the effects – both good as well as bad – that money and fame can have on such bonds. However, despite critical and financial success, not everyone is pleased with the film. Gerald Heller – portrayed by actor Paul Giamatti in Straight Outta Compton – has served a lawsuit that calls for the filmmakers to fork over some serious money.
According to Deadline, the former N.W.A manager is suing Universal and the Straight Outta Compton crew for defamation, copyright infringement and contract violation. In total – between monetary damages and punitive damages – Heller’s suit is calling for a payout of roughly $110 million dollars. Heller bases his suit on the grounds that the meteoric rise of the film has personally and professionally affected him in an adverse way – and that he never authorized such a portrayal of himself in the first place. The suit also alleges that much of the film derived its content from his own memoir titled Ruthless: A Memoir as well as a screenplay owned by the businessman.
The filing for Heller’s case elaborated further on the nature of the lawsuit:
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 larger the success of the film, the greater the damages to Plaintiff, 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 revolves heavily on Heller’s relationship with the rappers, and how his influence affected each member. Although initially portrayed as an integral part of their rise to fame, Heller’s characterization eventually reveals him as a ruthless businessman with little regard or care for the young artists he represents – making him out as the clear antagonist of the film.
This lawsuit does possess some degree of underlying realism that should be readily apparent to anyone who has seen Straight Outta Compton. Heller’s character is portrayed in the film as an aggressive businessman unafraid to threaten legal action and settle disputes in court if he has to. Whether or not this is an example of life imitating art or the other way around remains to be seen.
Only time will tell how the lawsuit plays out. If nothing else, Heller’s lawsuit certainly got one thing right: Straight Outta Compton has experienced immense success. The film has garnered $200 million at the worldwide box office against a $28 million budget, making it one of the most successful biopics in recent memory.