Former Black Panther leader's privacy claim dismissed

Privacy | Feature | June 16, 1997

Former Black Panther leader's privacy claim dismissed

06/16/97

PENNSYLVANIA--Although the movie "Panther" depicts Bobby Seale in a false light in two scenes, the former leader of the Black Panther Party failed to prove actual malice -- knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth -- on the part of Gramercy Pictures and other defendants involved in the production, the federal District Court in Philadelphia ruled in mid-May.

In addition, Seale failed to prove the producers published private facts about him because the film did not portray Seale's private activities, the court found. Seale said he is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.).

Seale contended that two scenes in the film portrayed him in a false light. One of the scenes depicts Bobby Seale and Huey Newton buying guns from an Asian dealer illegally. Another shows Seale and Eldridge Cleaver arguing over the use of violence in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seale failed to prove that Gramercy Pictures acted with reckless disregard for the truth in the film's portrayal of him, the court ruled. Finding the movie to be a "docudrama" rather than a "documentary" film, the court pointed out that minor fictionalization may not be considered evidence of actual malice. The court defined a "docudrama" as a "motion picture presenting a dramatic recreation or adaptation of actual events."

The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that to recover for a false light invasion of privacy claim, a public figure must prove actual malice by clear and convincing evidence. (Seale v. Gramercy Pictures; Media Counsel: Tom Ferber, New York)