NEWARK, N.J. – A federal judge has dismissed a $50 million lawsuit brought by members of the Ramapough Native American tribe against the makers of a movie that they said depicted their people in a negative light.
The lawsuit filed in New Jersey in December claimed the writers and producers of “Out of the Furnace” made false representations about the people who live in the Ramapo Mountains along the New York-New Jersey border.
It claimed that unsavoury characters in the film had last names that are common among the Ramapough and that it perpetuated negative and unfounded stereotypes. The plaintiffs — who are mostly from New Jersey and New York, with one from Tennessee — claimed the film caused them humiliation. They were seeking punitive and compensatory damages.
The 2013 movie stars Christian Bale as a man trying to find his missing brother, who has gotten involved with a bare-knuckle fighting ring in the mountains of New Jersey.
The movie’s villain, played by Woody Harrelson, has the last name DeGroat, which is common among the Ramapough. Most of the 17 plaintiffs in the suit have the DeGroat last name.
Harrelson’s character is the leader of a gang of “inbreds,” according to the suit, who are depicted as lawless, drug-addicted, poor and violent, and live in the “mountains of New Jersey.”
The Record (http://bit.ly/1oEpWPt) reports the judge recently dismissed the suit. That decision came a few weeks after lawyers for Relativity Media, which released the movie, and the other defendants filed a motion to dismiss it.
In legal papers filed in March, they said the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for defamation or false light under both the common law and the First Amendment and argued that the dismissal of the false light or defamation claims negates the claim of infliction of emotional distress.
Lydia Cotz, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told the newspaper that she and her clients haven’t yet decided whether they will appeal the decision.
Cotz said she was “disappointed that the court did not view my clients’ perspective as meritorious, but we are pleased that this litigation let the makers of this film, as well as the region in general, know that there are contrary views about this community’s character and values.”
The Ramapough do not have federal recognition but identify themselves as an American ethnic group recognized as a tribe by New York and New Jersey.
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com