'Borat' Movie Still Make Benefit LawyersThu Oct 25, 2007 @ 08:51AM PST
Posted by Matthew Heller
A year after his glorious movie premiered, Borat Sagdiyev's celluloid journey through the American South is turning into the judicial equivalent of General Sherman's march. An Alabama etiquette teacher and her outraged dinner guests have now joined two South Carolina frat brothers, a Virginia rodeo spectator, a Mississippi churchgoer and, yes, another Alabama etiquette teacher in suing the makers of “Borat” and star Sacha Baron Cohen for duping them into participating in the hit mockumentary. Cohen and 20th Century Fox are alleged to have "conspired to subject the Plaintiffs to Cohen's lewd, insulting and offensive conduct," according to this lawsuit filed Oct. 19 in Birmingham federal court by Cindy Streit.
Streit, of Etiquette Training Services of Birmingham, is not to be confused with Kathie Martin, operator of The Etiquette School of Birmingham, who sued in December 2006 over her appearance in the film teaching the Kazakh ambassador some table manners. A "Borat" field coordinator recruited Streit to help arrange a "Southern, in-home style dining experience" for a "foreign dignitary" from Belarus. That developed into the infamous (and hilarious) dinner-party scene in which Borat horrifies the well-heeled guests by, among other things, returning from a bathroom visit with a plastic bag filled with what appears to be his bodily waste.
The fraud and right-of-publicity cases brought by the frat brothers and the rodeo guy, which were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, were speedily dismissed on anti-SLAPP motions brought by Fox's go-to litigator for all things Borat, Louis Petrich. But in the Deep South, which doesn't have similar free speech protections, judges may be more receptive to an anti-“Borat” suit.
A federal judge in Mississippi declined to dismiss the case of churchgoer Ellen Johnston in August and barely disguised his distaste for the film. “There are indeed many reasonable Americans, especially those who are of an older generation, who are not familiar with the type of humor/satire that is depicted in the film Borat,” U.S. District W. Allen Pepper, who is in his mid-60s, said.
In an unusual move, Pepper certified an appeal of his own decision –- which means a “Borat” case could be one judicial step away from the U.S. Supreme Court.
UPDATED: The 5th Circuit denied leave to appeal Pepper's decision in a Nov. 13, 2007 order.