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<i> Arts and entertainment reports from The Times, national and international news services and the nation's press</i>

A former Mississippi sheriff has filed an $8 million libel suit against the makers of the film “Mississippi Burning,” claiming he was portrayed unfavorably in the film. “They have sure done some terrible harm,” the former Neshoba County sheriff, Lawrence Rainey, 65, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “Everybody all over the South knows the one they have playing the sheriff in that movie is referring to me.” The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court at Meridian charges defamation of character, libel and invasion of privacy, attorney James G. McIntyre said. Rainey, who now works for a black-owned security guard service, was sheriff at the time of the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Miss. The deaths prompted an FBI investigation that led to conspiracy charges being filed against 18 men, including Rainey, who was later acquitted. The movie, an Orion Pictures release starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, is a fictional account of the slayings of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. It has been criticized by some civil rights activists who say it maligns blacks and portrays the FBI agents as heroes. Rainey said the film falsely portrayed his activities and attitude during the period and had wronged the people of Neshoba County. Rainey said that both he and his employer had been “catching some playback” from those who had seen the film. Orion’s in-house attorney in New York, John Hester, said Wednesday that he was not aware of any papers being served to the company.


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