VIENNA — Attorneys representing the villagers of Glod, Romania, plan to file lawsuits today against "Borat" in New York, Florida and Germany, asking for more than $30 million in damages and seeking to stop further screening of the controversial comedy, which was No. 3 at the box office this past weekend, if scenes making fun of the villagers are not cut or changed.
The villagers, who are mostly gypsies, or Roma, assert that they were manipulated by the crew and lied to about the true nature of the film, and that unlike others in the movie, they did not sign release forms, a claim disputed by a spokesman for 20th Century Fox, which is distributing the film.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
'Borat' legal action: A headline in Monday's Calendar section on an article about a lawsuit involving the movie "Borat" should have said "Villagers to Sue 'Borat,' " not "Villages."
"We've not seen the lawsuit, but everyone who appeared in the film signed releases," said Fox spokesman Gregg Brilliant. "We worked through the same Romanian film production company that was involved in 'Cold Mountain,' and actors and extras were hired from the village but also from other parts of Romania."
The villagers also contend in the suit that "Borat" ridicules them on ethnic grounds. The suit being filed in New York, a portion of which was obtained by The Times, seeks $5 million to be used to improve schools and other infrastructure in the impoverished village, an additional $25 million in humanitarian aid and an unspecified amount for fair compensation for the villagers, who were paid roughly $4 a day for participating in the film, which has made $90.5 million in domestic box office receipts.
Brilliant, however, said the actors and extras were paid more than $4, twice what the Romanian film office recommended, but he declined to be more specific. He said that in addition to location fees, actor compensation and other related film costs, "Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen and the production gave the town $10,000 after the film wrapped there, money that was used to buy computers for the local school.
The villagers' lawsuits represent the latest legal action taken against "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," distributor 20th Century Fox and Cohen.
Two South Carolina fraternity boys, shown in the film drunk and making racial slurs, have filed a defamation suit, and at least one other person featured in the movie, a Southern etiquette teacher, has threatened legal action.
The international legal team, led by Edward D. Fagan, best known for a case that forced Swiss banks to pay $1.25 billion to Holocaust victims in the 1990s, is representing the Romanian village that filmmakers used as the setting for Borat's Kazakh hometown. Speaking over the weekend, Fagan said he hoped to "teach Hollywood a very expensive lesson."
"Borat" creator Cohen and the key filmmakers will be receiving legal letters today demanding sweeping changes to the beginning of the movie as well as a public apology and damages to the Romanian participants. If they refuse to comply within one week, the suit seeks an injunction in both the U.S. and Germany that would bar any further showing of the film.
Glod, in southern Romania, is a poor village without sewers or running water. The villagers have said they were tricked into participating in the film, which they believed was a documentary about their hardships.
"This case is not about money but about dignity," said Fagan, who is based in New York. "The producers need to pay because they deprived the villagers of Glod of their essential right to choose.
"They are the only ones who had no idea what was going on in the film. Unlike in the U.S., where all participants signed legal agreements, it appears that it never crossed producers' minds to ask the Romanian participants to sign any agreement of consent nor give them the chance to protect themselves in any way."
Acting on behalf of individual participants in the film, the village of Glod and the Roma community, the legal team will simultaneously file lawsuits in New York and Florida state courts, as well as in Frankfurt, Germany.
Fagan said: "You see Pamela Anderson in the film being physically attacked. But she is not taking legal action, as she went out into the public on an autograph session and knew that an incident like that could possibly happen, as there are all sorts of people out there. And we see other participants, like the feminist group, express their dislike as they realize they are being misled. The people at the dinner party interrupted the whole thing once it got too much for them.
"But that choice was taken away from our clients."
The villagers of Glod, 98% of whom are Roma, say they're making a case for the whole Roma community, because they feel they have been ridiculed because of their background.
"Ridiculing them on ethnic grounds is simply not tolerable," said Fagan. "Mr. Cohen makes a great point about anti-Semitism in his film. But as Jews do not have horns, Roma are not rapists and prostitutes."