Faizon Love sued Universal Pictures today, accusing it of violating California’s fair employment and civil rights laws with the international poster for its 2009 comedy movie Couples Retreat, calling it an “act of racism.” It also claims the studio reneged on a promise to get Love future roles when they originally sought to placate him over the controversy.
Love co-starred in the movie with Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Jason Bateman, Malin Ackerman, Jon Favreau, Kristen Davis and Kali Hawk as a quartet of couples who travel to a tropical island where marriage therapy classes are a requirement.
Filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the 45-page suit (read it here) from Love and his loan-out company The Burning House recounted that Universal’s marketing for the film in domestic markets during its original featured all four couples in the key art. Faizon and Hawk, the only Black couple in the ensemble, were excised from the international English-language poster, both in the photo and in the cast listing.
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The discrepancy was noted in the UK during the film’s original 2019 release, with a Universal spokesperson at the time saying the cut was “‘to simplify the poster to actors who are most recognisable in international markets.” Universal eventually removed the international poster from use overseas, though part of Faizon’s suit today says it remains in circulation as part of the film’s promotion.
“Rather than enjoy maximum visibility with the film’s release, Mr. Love was demoted to the proverbial ‘Invisible Man,’ as penned by Ralph Ellison,” reads the lawsuit. “Although Couples Retreat achieved a first-place box office opening weekend ranking, and went on a spectacular run that grossed more than $171 million worldwide, Universal Studios placed Mr. Love in the back seat of the ride enjoyed by his six White costars. Mr. Love and his Black costar, Kali Hawk, were expunged completely from the film’s principal international advertisement, while the other ‘couples’ basked in the publicity and acclaim of an international box office hit.”
Universal declined comment on the lawsuit.
The suit also includes claims of fraud, breach of contract and false promise against defendants Universal City Studios LLC, Eden Resort Inc. and Relativity Media LLC, with Faizon and his lawyers saying that he reached out to the studio at the time and “[r]ather than react with adversity … endeavored to engage constructively.”
“Universal Studios (on behalf of Defendants), in turn, attempting to assuage Mr. Love and prevent his filing suit, promised both (i) the immediate cessation of the racist international poster, and (ii) prompt recompense to Mr. Love in the form of lucrative, career-making film roles,” the suit adds.
“Universal Studios lied. 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 had initially portrayed to Mr. Love as an unintentional act of oversight and carelessness was, we now know, an intentional act of disparate and discriminatory treatment by Universal Studios and the remaining Defendants.”
“As far as Universal was concerned, its contract meant nothing, its promises to correct its egregious behavior meant nothing, and its pledges to Faizon Love meant nothing,” Love’s lead attorney Eric George of BGR said today. “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.”
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