Filmmaker Errol Morris won a victory in a California Appeals Court in his defense from an ongoing lawsuit brought by the subject of his 2010 documentary Tabloid.
Morris’ film examined the 1977 British “Manacled Mormon” tabloid story in which Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming, claimed she took her fiancée away to a secluded cabin for a weekend-long loving making session as a way to persuade him into leaving the Mormon Church. The former fiancée told a different story, that McKinney had kidnapped and repeatedly raped him. The story became a British tabloid sensation. McKinney was arrested and charged, but she and a co-conspirator jumped bail and fled back to the United States. She was sentenced in absentia to one year in jail for indecent assault, thanks to Britian’s then in force Sexual Offences Act 1956, which did not recognize that men could be raped.
Following the release of Tabloid, McKinney filed suit against Morris claiming among other things misappropriation of likeness, defamation, misrepresentation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract stemming from her participation in the film. Initially, a Los Angeles judge dismissed many of McKinney’s claims, leading her legal team to file an appeal which was ruled upon Tuesday by California appellate Judge Elizabeth Grimes.
Grimes concurred that the film and its subject was still within the public’s interest, even though it dealt with a subject from 30 years ago and that occurred in a foreign country, writing in her ruling –
We conclude defendants’ film presents a view of how the tabloid media operates as seen through the lens of plaintiff’s personal experiences in the maelstrom of the Manacled Mormon media circus. The subjects of tabloid journalism and the oftentimes questionable tactics of tabloid reporters and paparazzi photographers are matters of widespread public interest. Along with the related issues of the overnight rise of ‘celebrities’ from tabloid coverage and reality television, the subject is so prevalent, it borders on a societal obsession. It is not mere coincidence Tabloid was released, as defendants note, at a time when the News of the World phone-hacking scandal was making international headlines.”
Grimes also upheld the defense’s argument that McKinney was still a public figure.
[B]y expressly agreeing to participate in a taped interview to be used in a production for a broad public audience, plaintiff voluntarily and affirmatively injected herself into a public discussion about the tabloid media, their tactics and how they purportedly present or misrepresent the truth, and ‘destroy’ privacy.
The judge also pointed out the her defense that she had repeatedly turned down other interview offers over the years only strengthened the defense’s claim that she was still a person of public interest.
The case now moves back to trial court, where McKinney still has the opportunity to try and prove that Morris misrepresented his film to her and caused her emotional distress.
Via Hollywood Reporter.