Couples Retreat is a mostly unmemorable 2009 romantic comedy with an ensemble cast. For some reason, when the movie was marketed internationally, Universal Studios removed the Black actors from the poster. Film star and comedian Faizon Love has filed suit against Universal due to the studio’s decade long racist advertising campaign for the movie.
“Setting aside Universal Studios’ self-professed solidarity with progressive racial goals, the facts underpinning this case demonstrate that Universal Studios is a fully-participating collaborator in maintaining a bigoted status quo,” states the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Mr. Love’s law firm Browne George Ross O’Brien Annaguey & Ellis LLP.
Love was one of eight principal stars and one of only two Black stars, along with Kali Hawk, in the comedy film, which has grossed over $171 million to date. 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.
Yet, when the picture was released internationally, the studio used a different poster from which Love and Hawk’s faces and names were removed. The studio also refused to invite Love to participate in the European press tour for the film’s initial foreign release.
Love challenged Universal in 2009 over the racist change to its marketing for Couples Retreat, and the studio promised to cease using the offending ad. It also promised to correct its bad behavior by providing Love with other significant film roles, as well as a prominent role in a television show alongside Vince Vaughn, with whom Love appeared in the film. Love accepted these promises at face value and, at the time, declined to pursue legal remedies.
Despite Universal’s failure during the past dozen years to make good on promises for additional film and TV roles, Love believed the company had at least made good on its pledge to correct its advertising to meet its contractual obligations to him. However, in July of this year, Love discovered the altered poster was still being used. It was at this point, he decided to sue.
The lawsuit is especially significant in 2020, in the wake of the racial justice movement and the Motion Picture Academy’s pledge to address the historic lack of diversity in Academy Award nominations spotlighted by the #OscarsSoWhite movement.
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