Photo by Photofest
Photo by Photofest

Oprah Winfrey may still be dealing with fallout from her decision to exit the upcoming Sundance documentary On the Record, which addresses sexual misconduct allegations against Russell Simmons, but she’s clear of another public headache as a Louisiana federal judge has tossed a lawsuit against her Harpo Films over The Great Debaters.

The family of Melvin B. Tolson in March 2017 sued Harpo, The Weinstein Co. and MGM over the 2007 film, which starred and was directed by Denzel Washington. David Wayne Semien alleged Tolson’s family was “not compensated in any monetary way” for the use of Tolson’s name and “unique life experiences” as a professor at Wiley College who, in the 1930s, led the school’s debate team to a national championship amid segregation. 

The defendants asked the court to toss the suit, arguing that not only are filmmakers protected by the First Amendment but also that the complaint was filed a decade too late and Louisiana, where Tolson resided, doesn’t recognize posthumous rights of publicity, so the rights to his story died with him in 2006.

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