Who wants to live forever? Queen, Sacha and other fights over biopics

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Nothing attracts comedians looking for some serious validation of their acting skills like a biopic. Steve Carell went for Little Miss Sunshine and Foxcatcher. Bill Murray starred in Lost in Translation. Jim Carrey signed up for The Majestic and Man on the Moon. Emma Thompson, believe it or not, actually started as a comedian. And most recently Sacha Baron Cohen wanted to get some dramatic cred in a Freddy Mercury biopic.

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That, as you may have heard, did not work out. Cohen has since accused the remaining Queen cast members of wanting to make a sanitised film more about the band’s rise after Mercury than his infamous life. But Queen’s Brian May has hit back, saying they had no such intentions and that, instead, Cohen was acting like an erratic buffoon.

Biopics have a habit of attracting controversy, though most often after the fact. Then again, you can rather call them ‘historical fiction’, as biopics often fail to tell the whole – or even true – story. Films like Straight Outta Compton, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind300 and The Imitation Game were notoriously selective about their ‘facts. Some films – like American Sniper – were pretty much all made up.

But like the Mercury biopic, a lot of biopics run into trouble even before they start – and very often. Just in the past few years there has been a flood of such stories.

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For example, Steve Jobs’ widow went to great lengths to stop the latest film, Steve Jobs by Danny Boyle. She contacted actors like Leonardo di Caprio and Christian Bale, urging them not to join the project. There may have even been a lawsuit, but the movie still managed to surface.

Families reacting badly to biopics is not uncommon. The late R&B star Aleeya’s story was slated for a Lifetime movie, but her relatives are opposing it. According to them, her story deserves the big screen treatment and not some TV-movie. Fair enough.

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Sometimes families don’t like what will be said. An upcoming biopic about the singer Marvin Gaye has been thrown in turmoil because it plans to focus on his seedier experiences during the Eighties, a low point in his career. Lenny Kravitz is tipped to play the lead, but Gaye’s family are very opposed to it. The charge is led by Gaye’s son, who is actually a childhood friend of Kravitz and has been pushing him to drop from the project.

Often, though, it’s just about money. A new biopic about civil rights activist Martin Luther King jr. is in the works. But it may stop as only one of his family negotiated the deal and didn’t bother to tell the rest of them. So it’s going to court and, hopefully, a settlement.

These can get complicated. The upcoming Tupac Shakur biopic has seen his mother sue the production over contract quibbles, and the producers sue the studio over secret castings. In contrast, the new movie about Gregg Allman, of Allman Brothers fame, may be dead after he sued the production: not over money, but possibly due to a horrific train accident during the production that killed a stunt professional.

It can all be about getting basic permission. The makers of a movie about Ray Croc, the dodgy businessman who made McDonalds an empire, must be relieved that the company has no intention of stopping the film. But Michael Jackson’s estate is VERY prickly about any biopics starring the late King of Pop, so much so that someone is using a loophole: they are telling MJ’s story from the perspective of his late chimp Bubbles.

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But there are days where you just have to jut out your chin and go to war. This happened with the creators of a biopic about the late Yves Saint Laurent, the maverick French fashion designer. His widower is very protective and decided to support a different biopic that is nicer about Laurent’s image. He even went as far as to ban the rival production from company archives or using any of Laurent’s clothing designs in their film. But this did not stop Saint Laurent, the unauthorised film, to be regarded as hands-down the better of the two.

So don’t worry, Sacha and Brian – your little disagreement is nothing yet.

Last Updated: April 12, 2016

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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