Comedian Faizon Love is suing Universal Pictures for the studio's advertising for 2009 comedy Couples Retreat starring Malin Akerman and Vince Vaughn.
Love is suing for “the company's decade-long racist advertising campaign" for the film. Love is suing for breach of contract, fraud, and alleged violations of California's civil rights and fair employment laws, citing “intentional discrimination" because of Love's race. The suit also names Adam Fogelson, who was over Universal's advertising in 2009, but is now the chairman for STX Films. Also named is General Electric Co., which had Universal Pictures under its corporate umbrella at the time, and the film's producer, Scott Stuber.
“Love was one of eight principle stars and one of only two Black stars, along with Kali Hawk," states the release. “Love's contract with Universal guaranteed him star-billing on par with six of his co-stars, including in advertising and promotional materials for the film. In the U.S., Love and Hawk appeared in those materials."
However, Universal released different advertising for the international promotion of the film, with Hawk and Love's images and names removed from the poster. The suit also alleges that Universal “refused to invite Love to participate in the European press tour for the film's initial foreign release."
After Love addressed the discriminatory behavior with Universal in 2009, the studio allegedly promised to stop using the advertisement and end other discriminatory behavior surrounding the film's promotion. Part of the agreement included a promise for Love to have “other significant film roles" including a “prominent" role on a TV show with Vaughn. As a result, Love didn't pursue any further legal action. Universal never did come through with their promise to Love concerning film and TV roles, and this July, Love found that Universal was still using the discriminatory poster despite their agreement.
“Given that these actions have gone uncorrected for 12 years, Love felt he was left with no choice but to sue," states the release.
Browne George Ross O'Brien Annaguey & Ellis LLP's Eric George, Love's lead attorney, said in a statement that Universal's actions show it believed their contract with Love “meant nothing."
“Its promises to correct its egregious behavior meant nothing, and its pledges to Faison Love meant nothing," he said. "Yet this is not merely a breach of contract and good faith: It is nothing less than a deliberate act of racism on the part of Universal Studios at the highest levels."
“Universal Studios lied," he continued. “Not only did it flout its promise of career assistance to Mr. Love, Universal Studios continues to this day to use the offending poster--not merely internationally but now also domestically. What Universal Studios has initially portrayed to Mr. Love as an unintentional act of oversight and carelessness was, as we now know, an intentional act of disparate and discriminatory treatment by Universal Studios and the remaining defendants."
Love's counsel also states that despite Universal's "self-professed solidarity with progressive racial goals," the studio "is a fully-participating collaborator in maintaining a bigoted status quo."
Love has also put out a statement about his lawsuit, discussing the film's lucrative status for Universal. The film has made over $171 million.
“This film was a big money-maker for Universal, but instead of honoring my work and my contract, the studio chose to render me invisible to billions of moviegoers around the world," he said. “They have not only hurt me financially, they have hurt me in a deeper way by dismissing me because of my Blackness--and they have hurt all Black performers by continuing to perpetuate racism in the movie industry."
Love said that his lawsuit isn't just for what happened to him, “but for the discriminatory practices against Blacks and people of color in the entertainment industry."
“I want to ensure that future generations don't have to endure the racism and whitewashing that I have experienced," he said.
Variety reached out to Universal for comment; they have yet to give a response.