The battle between Warner Bros. and The Weinstein Company over the upcoming film "The Butler" and its disputed title continues to drag on -- all while trailers and other marketing materials still refer to the Lee Daniels film as "The Butler." (It goes to reason that most Americans probably aren't even aware there's a knotted legal skirmish over the Aug. 16 release happening at the moment.)
As first reported by Deadline.com on July 1, Warner Bros. took issue with TWC because "The Butler" shares its title with a Warner Bros. short film from 1916. In a surprise, Warner Bros. won its arbitration case against TWC with the Motion Picture Association of America, a ruling that would force the indie giant to change the film's title before release. TWC appealed that decision.
"I am shocked at what happened on 'The Butler,'" Harvey Weinstein, head of The Weinstein Company, told THR on Monday night. "It's amazing to me how a 1916 short called 'The Butler' is knocking out a movie that deals with civil rights. I have no idea what's going on with that. They're not making another 'Butler.' I don't know what they're doing or what their reason is."
As BuzzFeed noted, the Warner Bros. stance on "The Butler" is particularly strange because the studio has said it would have allowed The Weinstein Company to call the film "Lee Daniels' The Butler" without any issue. Now that ship has sailed, however, because of the MPAA ruling.
"The MPAA ruled that we couldn't use the word 'butler' at all. They said we cannot use the word 'butler,'" Weinstein said in an interview with CBS This Morning on Tuesday. As he quoted to CBS This Morning host Norah O'Donnell, there have been 122 instances of movies using the same title as other movies in Hollywood history, including the recent comedy "The Heat," which shares its name with three other films.
Weinstein isn't the only person speaking out on behalf of "The Butler." Daniels wrote a personal letter to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara pleading with him to drop the case.
"I have spent the last four years of my life working on the film, 'The Butler,' and it is the proudest moment of my professional career. I am heartbroken as I write this letter to you," Daniels wrote in the letter, which was provided to Deadline.com and also The Hollywood Reporter. "If we were to change the title a mere six weeks before we open, it would most certainly hurt the film by limiting the number of people who would ultimately see this important story."
According to Weinstein, though, "The Butler" itself is ultimately of little consequence to Warner Bros. This is about something bigger.
"We did try to settle it," Weinstein told CBS This Morning. "This movie is coming out August 16. I was asked by two execs at Warner Brothers, which I'm happy testify to, that if I gave them back the rights to 'The Hobbit' they would drop the claim. For a 1916 short? This was used as a bullying tactic [...] This was the big guy trying to hit the small guy."
UPDATE: In response to all this, Warner Bros. has released a statement about "The Butler" (via Deadline.com):
The Weinstein Company, as the New York Times has noted, is following an oft-trodden path of creating “well-publicized controversies” in order to promote their films by disseminating deliberate misinformation about the true nature of this dispute. The Weinsteins are sophisticated experts in this arena and three neutral arbitrators have penalized them for blatantly disregarding MPAA rules. It goes without saying that Warner Bros. has no issue with Lee Daniels’ film (never has) and fully supports the artistic goals of the filmmakers. The Weinsteins’ suggestions to the contrary are deeply offensive and untrue.
The original article continues below.
No word yet on what will happen with "The Butler," but expect it to still be called "The Butler" when the film arrives in theaters on Aug. 16.
For more from Weinstein, including why he thinks cooler heads will prevail, head to THR. Watch Weinstein and company on CBS This Morning in the video above.