Warner Bros. is standing by its film “Richard Jewell” amid calls from a Hollywood lawyer to tack on a disclaimer explaining that the movie took dramatic license in portraying a reporter’s work covering the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta.
The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and currently playing in select theaters before opening wide on Friday, tells the true story of Jewell, a security guard who helped prevent the bombing from becoming a greater tragedy, but whose personal life suffered after he was briefly treated as a suspect in the case.
Jewell died in 2007.
The controversy centers on the film’s portrayal of Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde. The movie strongly implies that Scruggs had sex with an FBI agent in exchange for information about Jewell being a suspect.
“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material,” Warner Bros. said in a statement released Monday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “There is no disputing that Richard Jewell was an innocent man whose reputation and life were shredded by a miscarriage of justice. It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast. ‘Richard Jewell’ focuses on the real victim, seeks to tell his story, confirm his innocence and restore his name. The AJC’s claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them.’
On Monday, attorney Martin Singer, representing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, sent a letter to Warner Bros., Eastwood, his screenwriter Bill Ray, and journalist Marie Brenner — who wrote a Vanity Fair story on which the film is based — that threatened defamation lawsuits unless the studio “immediately issue a statement publicly acknowledging that some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters. We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.”
“It is highly ironic that a film purporting to tell a tragic story of how the reputation of an FBI suspect was grievously tarnished appears bent on a path to severely tarnish the reputation of the AJC, a newspaper with a respected 150-year-old publishing legacy,” the letter begins.
“The Richard Jewell film falsely portrays the AJC and its personnel as extraordinarily reckless, using unprofessional and highly inappropriate reporting methods, and engaging in constitutional malice by recklessly disregarding information inconsistent with its planned reporting.”
Current AJC editor Kevin Riley — who has denied that Scruggs slept with the agent — told The Hollywood Reporter that “at a time when journalism itself is under attack from a lot of corners, for a movie to fall into this kind of trope and reinforce a false stereotype — it is wrong. It is especially alarming to see it happening in Hollywood.”
Scruggs died in 2001.
The film does contain a disclaimer, which states, “The film is based on actual historical events. Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.”
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