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The Fight Over The Butler Title Is Over, And Both Sides Claim Victory

The legal debacle between Warner Bros and The Weinstein Company over the name of the upcoming historical drama The Butler has finally come to a close, at least for now. I’m probably legally obligated to go back and edit that to Lee Daniels’ The Butler, as that will almost assuredly end up being the finalized title, according to Deadline. It isn’t even an agreement between Warner and TWC so much as it is an MPAA ruling, which allows both companies to walk away dusting their hands off as if either got anything accomplished.

The Butler, from the now-titular director of Precious and The Paperboy, stars Forest Whitaker as a butler who served in the White House for decades, and counts a million famous people in its supporting cast-- Oprah as the butler's wife, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, John Cusack as Richard Nixon. It’s such a shame that all of the attention surrounding the name is overshadowing the film, which will probably be a trite pile-up of whitewashed history (no pun intended). But it won’t be as trite as either Warner’s argument that TWC’s film was somehow infringing on their 1916 short film The Butler. But it’s their right, so now it’s on TWC’s shoulders to hurry up and change all of their promotional material to reflect this updated ruling, which overturns the MPAA’s former arbitration decision that the words “the butler” could not show up in the title at all. (It was still a lost appeal on behalf of TWC, but no one really expected the case to be overturned.) Even if TWC does use Lee Daniels’ The Butler as its official title, there’s a stipulation saying the “Lee Daniels’” lettering has to be at least 75% as big as The Butler. No sneaking the director’s name off in a corner or anything.

And so what happens if TWC doesn’t hurry up and change everything? Pretend you can hear me making “cha-ching” sounds a bunch of times. Already, TWC has to pay the Entertainment Industry Foundation a whopping $400,000 for initially violating the July 2 ruling. Since then, each day that the promotional material failed to reflect that ruling is costing TWC $25,000, so that’s another $475,000 going to the charity. If July 26 gets here and they still haven’t changed the title, the daily fine jumps up to $50,000. (I love the fact that they can be fined more than I make in a year just by being kind of lazy and standoffish. Oh wait, no I don’t.) In addition, TWC has to pay Warner’s legal fees to the tune of $150,000. Over a million dollars in the hole all because TWC thought their trumped up legal team- which included one of the Proposition 8 lawyers – could finagle an agreement out of Warner’s unyielding team.

The Butl…I mean, whatever this movie ends up being called will presidentially pardon its way into theaters on August 13. If you’ve forgotten what this inspirational story is about, check out the trailer below. Just pretend it’s got a different title at the end of it.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.