While “All Eyez on Me,” the long-gestating biopic of prolific, slain rapper Tupac Shakur, was mostly a hit with fans, the film has been derided by critics, and its authenticity has been questioned by both friends of the late rapper and hip-hop heavyweights.
And on Friday, former Vibe journalist Kevin Powell filed a federal lawsuit against Morgan Creek, Lionsgate, and the producers and writers of the film for copyright-infringement. Powell in the suit admits to having concocted a “made-up character” in his articles; a figure with the same name appears in “All Eyez on Me.”
“While some of the content in these articles was factual, some portions of the article were changed or embellished,” reads the suit, filed Friday in an U.S. district court in New York. The court papers state that some of Powell’s accounts of “fictional characters and re-worked narratives” appear in the film.
In question is the film’s alleged usage of a series of interviews the activist and writer conducted while Shakur was behind bars for sexual assault. Powell’s meetings with Shakur were the basis of several Vibe features in the 1990s, including the rapper’s jailhouse confessional, which became one of the hip-hop magazine’s most famous covers.
Claiming that significant portions of “All Eyez on Me” were based on his interviews, Powell is asking a judge to have the Lionsgate film pulled from theaters and is seeking an unspecified amount to be determined by a jury.
Since its release last week, the film has grossed more than $32 million domestically.
Powell has previously said he needed to leave details regarding the rapper out of his reporting as well as change names in order to protect the artist. Part of the basis of his suit is the film’s inclusion of a character named “Nigel,” whom Powell created as a composite of a real person named Haitian Jack.
“The name and character of 'Nigel' in the Original Work was specifically created by the plaintiff without the authority or encouragement of Tupac Shakur," reads the complaint.
"This made-up character of Nigel was the embellishment of a real-life character that was central to the narrative in plaintiff’s articles,” the suit continues.
The lawsuit addresses other alleged similarities. Powell argues that a bulk of the film appears to be based on his jailhouse interviews with the artist. In the film, the interviewer, portrayed by actor Hill Harper, is never given a name.
Representatives for the film have not yet responded to requests for comment.
Powell’s lawsuit adds to the drama that has embroiled the film.
In 2011, Morgan Creek announced it had teamed with Emmett Furla Oasis Films to co-finance and co-produce the film, with Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “The Magnificent Seven”) attached to direct.
The filmed aimed to chronicle Shakur’s rise as a rapper and actor, his legal troubles, his stint at Death Row Records and the 1996 drive-by shooting that claimed his life at age 25, which came at the height of the East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry.
His slaying, like that of peer Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G.), remains unsolved.
A legal battle between Morgan Creek and Shakur’s mother, Afeni, over creative control added to the project's hold-ups — both parties eventually settled, with Afeni working with filmmakers and granting rights for her son’s music catalog. Afeni, who died in May 2016, isn’t credited on the film — reportedly at the request of the Shakur estate.
Yet director Fuqua dropped out, and John Singleton was next to fill the role, signing on to rewrite, direct and produce the film in 2014. He had especially close ties with the late rapper, having directed him in 1993’s urban romantic drama “Poetic Justice” alongside Janet Jackson and had hoped for him to star in what became his 2001 film “Baby Boy.”
A little over a year later, however, Singleton was out and Carl Franklin (“Devil in a Blue Dress”) was in. Singleton criticized producers for not respecting Shakur’s legacy.
Adding to the drama, producers Emmett/Furla filed a $10-million lawsuit against Morgan Creek in October 2015, claiming the company had breached a co-production agreement by selecting a lead actor and setting a budget and production schedule without Emmett/Furla's approval.
Franklin then quietly exited the project and was replaced by Benny Boom, who has directed music videos for a variety of A-list hip-hop and R&B stars.
Upon release last weekend, critics lambasted the film — The Times’ review called the screenwriting “lazy” — and the artist’s childhood friend Jada Pinkett Smith said the portrayal of her relationship with Shakur was “deeply hurtful.”
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