The Weinstein Company and Warner Bros.' dispute over "The Butler" added another wrinkle late on Friday as the MPAA approved the former's use of the title "Lee Daniels' The Butler" for the upcoming film.
The Wrap appeared to break the news, followed closely by THR and Deadline.com. All industry publications had been following the story -- which sent Harvey Weinstein himself to the airwaves to put pressure on Warner Bros. and the MPAA -- for the duration of the conflict. The dispute centered on Warner Bros.' claim that a 1916 short film of the same name should be enough to prohibit TWC from using the words "The Butler" in the title for a new movie (more information on the original complaints and rulings below.)
Friday's news was touted as a victory by The Weinstein Company, which had previously been banned from using the words "The Butler" in any way in the film's title. The MPAA reversal (of sorts) comes with some restrictions: "All letters of all words in the title must be in the same size and prominence as the size and prominence of the word 'butler,' except if the name 'Lee Daniels' is used int he title, then 'Lee Daniels' must be of a size at least 75 percent and of equal prominence to the word 'butler.'"
The ruling, which came from the MPAA's Title Registration Bureau, did find The Weinstein Company in violation of a number of its provisions and levied fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars against the company ($400,000, for example, must be paid by July 26).
The MPAA's full ruling can be found here.
The battle between Warner Bros. and The Weinstein Company over the "The Butler" took another turn on Wednesday when director Lee Daniels sent a letter to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara requesting that the studio back off from its attempt to force "The Butler" to change titles.
"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."
Daniels' film is based on the life of Eugene Allen, a White House staffer who served through eight administrations. Forest Whitaker stars in the film as the Allen stand-in, Cecil Gaines, and he's joined by an all-star cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda. Daniels, who has pushed the envelope in films like "Precious" and "The Paperboy," has said previously how difficult it was for him to even make a film like "The Butler," which is likely to score a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (and, perhaps, Oscar nominations early next year).
“I can’t go into my bag of tricks on this one: no urination, no baby falling down the stairs, no cursing at all," he told THR. "We only have one ‘f-ck,’ which Lyndon Johnson gets. I felt like I directed the film in handcuffs and a muzzle."
Regardless of the process, "The Butler" is ready to go: The Weinstein Company has the film set for release on Aug. 16. The issue surrounding the film's title stems from the fact that Warner Bros. has a short film in its archive from 1916 that's also called "The Butler." As Variety reported, Warner Bros. won its arbitration case with the MPAA, but TWC has appealed the decision.
"The Warner Bros, 1916 short has not been displayed or exhibited for almost a century and there is no plausible basis to contend that there is any chance of confusion between the two productions," TWC lawyer David Boies said in a letter to Warner Bros. and the MPAA (provided, again, to Deadline.com).
It should be noted that many films have been released with the same title in the past, including Best Picture winners "Gladiator" and "Crash."