SHREVEPORT – The estate of the man portrayed in the movie "The Great Debaters" allege it was never compensated for the use of its decedent's life experiences.
Semien, as the succession representative of Arthur Tolson, legal
guardian of Antoinette Tolson and agent of Karen Tolson, Kenneth Tolson
Sr., Kenneth Tolson Jr. and Delores Tolson, being all living decedents
of Melvin B. Tolson, filed a complaint on March 22 in the U.S. District
Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Division against
Harpo Films Inc., The Weinstein Co. LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distribution Co.
alleging unjust enrichment.
According to the complaint, the
defendants produced the film "The Great Debaters," starring Denzel
Washington, based on Melvin B. Tolson's work at Wiley College as a
debate coach in the 1930s. The suit states Melvin B. Tolson Jr. offered
to the producers several recordings of his father so that Washington
could use the recordings to study him. The Tolson estate alleges it was
not compensated in any monetary way for the defendants’ commercial use of the
decedent's name and unique life experiences.
The plaintiff holds
Harpo Films Inc., The Weinstein Co. LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Distribution Co. responsible because the defendants allegedly used decedent's name and unique life experiences in the making and
distribution of the biographical film without decedent's heirs'
The plaintiffs seek all damages, with interest,
costs, reasonable attorney fees, and all other legal, general and
equitable relief. He is represented by Scott D. Wilson in Baton Rouge.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Division Case number 5:17-cv-00432