The lawsuit filed Monday in federal court says "Out of the Furnace," a movie released this month by Relativity Media, made them feel embarrassed and humiliated because of false representations it makes about people who live in the Ramapo Mountains.
The movie follows Christian Bale as he tries to locate his brother, who has gone missing after participating in a bare-knuckle fight in the mountains of New Jersey.
The villain, named Harlan DeGroat, is portrayed as the leader of a gang of "inbreds" who are a lawless, drug-addicted, poor and violent bunch who get around on ATVs. Another character is named Dwight Van Dunk. DeGroat and Van Dunk are common surnames among the Ramapoughs.
In one scene, a police officer standing beside a Bergen County Police car tells Bale to leave the area or the authorities will have to take him out in a body bag.
The civil lawsuit alleges defamation because the movie sets scenes "in the Ramapough Mountains of New Jersey, by referring to the criminal gang and/or community as Jackson Whites and by using the DeGroat and Van Dunk surnames for the principal villains, all of which make for a ready association between these plaintiffs and the movie," Lydia B. Cotz, the attorney for the 17 Ramapoughs, said in the court filing.
The plaintiffs include eight DeGroats and two Van Dunks. Six are Mahwah residents. The remainder live in Hewitt and Belleville in New Jersey and the New York towns of Hillburn, Wurtsboro, Middletown and Harriman. One resides in Tennessee.
A representative for Relativity Media said she could not comment on the lawsuit because she had not seen it.
Also named as defendants are Appian Way LLC, Energy Entertainment Inc., Scott Free Productions Inc. and Red Granite Pictures Inc. -- all California-based companies. Co-writers Brad Inglesby and Scott Cooper, who also directed the movie, are additionally named as defendants.
Cooper said in an interview for the publication DP/30 that the character of Harlan DeGroat is based on someone who has been in his family's life.
To establish false light, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant made statements about the plaintiff to the public that are offensive and false.
"The movie perpetuates a racist and discriminatory stereotype of the plaintiffs," Cotz said. "They have suffered emotionally and are justifiably upset."
The movie opened in limited release Dec. 4 and widely Dec. 6. It had grossed $10.9 million as of Sunday and cost $22 million to make, according to Box Office Mojo.
The week of its release, Mahwah officials held a news conference to denounce the film. Ramapough Indian Chief Dwaine Perry, Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet and Superintendent of Schools C. Lauren Schoen gathered at a town hall to take a stand against it.
A Relativity Media spokesman said when the movie was released that, "as is the case with most films, the filmmakers conducted research and drew upon their own personal life experiences in creating an original screenplay, and the story and the characters are entirely fictional."
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