BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A Birmingham etiquette expert and four other people featured in the hit movie “Borat” have filed a federal lawsuit against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and 20th Century Fox on claims they were duped into appearing in the film.

Cindy Streit, owner of Etiquette Training Services; Sarah Moseley, Ben McKinnon, Michael M. Jared and Lynn S. Jared said in the suit they were led to believe they were part of an educational documentary for a foreign dignitary from the Republic of Belarus.

Instead, they appeared in the 2006 “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” in which Cohen told crude jokes, tried to make them appear racist and, at one point, handed Streit a bag of feces.

“There was no “foreign dignitary,’ but only Cohen, a paid actor who carried out this previously scripted, outrageous conduct,” said the lawsuit filed Monday in Birmingham’s federal court. “There was no “educational documentary,’ but only a film memorializing the mockery, humiliation and degradation of unsuspecting participants.”

Efforts to reach 20th Century Fox officials or Cohen were unsuccessful.

In published reports, Gregg Brilliant, a spokesman for “Borat’s” distributor, 20th Century Fox, said, “Cindy Streit signed written agreements with the production, which clearly stated that a movie was being filmed and that the movie could be distributed worldwide. Her fee was negotiated and paid.”

Streit last week asked the California attorney general for an investigation into possible violations of the California Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The Birmingham suit said the Los Angeles-based company called Springland Films contacted her business to arrange etiquette and dining skills training for the foreign dignitary. The arrangement was supposed to portray a Southern, in-home-style dining experience “with columns.”

Streit arranged a sit-down session with Borat, aka Cohen, and a dinner party with guests, including Moseley, McKinnon, Michael Jared and Lynn Jared.

The evening went downhill, the suit said. Cohen asked dinner guests whether they owned slaves, and Cohen presented a black woman to the dinner guests as a prostitute he had asked to dine with them, according to the suit. The woman was actually professional actress Luenell Campbell.

The suit said the defendants purposely edited scenes to give the impression they were intolerant of dining with people of another race.

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America” was made for $18 million and has grossed $227 million in ticket sales worldwide.

The plaintiffs say they have suffered extreme humiliation, embarrassment and ridicule as a result of how they were portrayed. They seek, among other things, damages and an injunction barring their names, likenesses or images or any of the “dinner scenes” in the “Borat” movie.

The film has led to several lawsuits, including one filed by a New York businessman and fraternity members who maintain they were tricked into participating in the movie.

Other defendants include Springland Films, One America Productions, Todd Lewis Schulman, Dune Entertainment LLC and Four by Two Production Co.

PH END WALTON

(Val Walton is a staff writer for the Birmingham (Ala.) News and can be contacted at vwalton(at)bhamnews.com.)

2007-10-24-BORAT-LAWSUIT

AP-NY-10-24-07 1400EDT


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