I am a screenwriter who has been approached by an actor with an idea for a script. The story is based on literary criticism articles which posit that Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne had a "Brokeback Mountain" moment during a weekend retreat in upstate New York.

My concerns, of course, the obvious - using a widely-acclaimed American author's name in a script featuring LGBT sexuality could be litigious, if not career-ending.

I have suggested changing the character's names and adding a disclaimer, but the actor is adamant that the names not be changed.

Can anyone tell me if there any other options?

Thank you!

  • Do you think Alexander Hamilton was actually a rapping rhyming street-smart kid?
    – abelenky
    Aug 6 '19 at 15:12
  • A dead person can't be legally defamed. Defamation law exists to protect individuals from suffering financially due to lies. As the person is dead the cause of action doesn't exist. I believe Michael Jacksons family tried to sue the creators of leaving neverland but lost in court because it was held that dead people cannot sue for defamation Aug 6 '19 at 16:40

No and there are numerous instances where historical characters meet are used in fiction in events that never happened (I recall a cartoon movie which posited that all of Benjamin Franklin's accomplishments were really discovered by a mouse companion whom Franklin befriended and many popular tall tales are thought to have greatly exaggerated real people (best example is John Henry, who is thought to have really worked laying rail roads but never actually raced a machine and won).

South Park regularly impersonates celebrities (mostly living at time of release) to such a degree that they have yet to release an episode without someone famous showing up. When they get famous celebrity fans offering to do voices, they usually offer them the roll of making animal noises as opposed to actual dialog (given the show's brand of humor, most of them get the whole joke and gladly agree, though there are a few who refused.).

Other examples include Liberty Kids, which was a 90s era cartoon featuring four children who witness many historical events during the Revolutionary War, and interact with real Founding Fathers in relevent scenes (more respectful than mice taking credit for their actions) and Period Pieces will often take creative liberties with scenes. The engineer in Apollo 13 who helped develop the carbon scrubber was short changed as he was shown in the simulator trying and failing before he found a successful build. In reality he thought it up the successful build in the car ride to NASA. The recent Freddie Mercury took several liberties with historical events (notably Queen hadn't been broken up just prior to the Live Aid concert and were touring with Mercury weeks prior, not out of practices as the film depicted. Mercury was also not the first member of the band to try for a solo career and a few of the songs were depicted existing out of order from when they were played, notably the music featured during Queen's early tour of America would not be released until some time after the actual event).

Touched by an Angel featured several episodes where the titualar angels would talk to modern people they were helping about historical figures who had similar situations which the angles know about because they helped said historical figures. This includes Abraham Lincoln (The current Angel of Death was promoted to the role just in time to make Lincoln his first case in the new role), Billie Holiday (one of the angles inspired her to sing Strange Fruits on stage for the first time), Charles Lindeburg (during his solo transatlantic flight, in a sort of "God was my co-pilot" way) and Samuel Clemmins (aka Mark Twain, helping the real life atheist to find God or something. It wasn't the most well researched episode.). Mark Twain was also famously allied with the time traveling crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, to fix some business with Data losing his head in the time stream.

  • Very helpful Thank you!
    – delharvey
    Aug 7 '19 at 15:13

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