LOS ANGELES, CA, May 18 /CNW Telbec/ - Today the lawsuit filed against
American Apparel by Woody Allen will settle whereby he will receive a 5
million dollar payment. The vast majority of this payment will be paid by our
insurance carrier who is responsible for the decision to settle this case and
has controlled the defense of this case since its inception. Naturally there
is some relief of not having to go through a trial but I also harbor a sense
of remorse and sadness for not arguing an important issue regarding the First
Amendment, particularly the ability of an individual or corporation to invoke
the likeness of a public figure in a satiric and social statement.
For the record, I personally think we had a good case. As one of my
lawyers, Adam Levin explained, "Common sense dictates that the billboard at
issue here is 'not a simple advertisement.' As a matter of law, no commercial
transaction is proposed: no merchandise is shown or described, and no price is
quoted. Instead, the billboard contains an image of an Orthodox Jew in a black
top hat - none of which can be purchased at American Apparel. And the writing
on the poster is not the copy of a commercial advertisement, but Yiddish words
identifying Allen as "The High Rabbi." Finally, even if the billboard is found
to have the dual purpose of a commercial transaction and an expressive medium,
First Amendment protection still attaches because the two elements are
'inextricably intertwined.' The decision of the United States Court of Appeal
for the Ninth Circuit in Hoffman v. Capital Cities/ABC
http://www.altlaw.org/v1/cases/1610780 ...makes (it) abundantly clear that the
speech at issue in this case is protected by the First Amendment. Any other
conclusion inevitably would chill critical social and political commentary and
In recent weeks, I have been unable to comment freely about the
billboards as all of my communications had to be approved by the insurance
company. At this point, since the case is settled, I am free to say what have
Below is a statement that I had been working on explaining my position on
this case before it was settled and I am publishing now because I want people
to know what my motivations and true feelings were.
Few people know as well as Woody Allen how difficult it is to explain a
joke without killing its humor. Ironically, I now find myself in the difficult
position of having to make a similar explanation to Mr. Allen, a man who has
long been one of my inspirations.
In the spring of 2007, my company American Apparel put up two billboards
depicting an image of Woody Allen dressed as a Hasidic Jew, from the movie
"Annie Hall," one in New York City and the other in Los Angeles. They were up
for less than a week, and when Mr. Allen's representatives asked that we take
them down, we did so immediately. Nonetheless, Mr. Allen subsequently filed a
lawsuit against American Apparel, demanding $10 million for the unauthorized
use of his image.
The image of Mr. Allen in the billboards was from a scene in the film in
which the character he plays, Alvy Singer, is an uncomfortable guest at an
Easter dinner hosted by the family of his Gentile girlfriend, Annie Hall. Alvy
feels so out of place and hopelessly misunderstood at this dinner that Mr.
Allen makes a joke of it and shows Alvy imagining himself as a Hasidic Jew.
Along the top of the billboard were the words "Der Haileker Rebbe,"
written in Hebrew letters. This is Yiddish for "the highest level, extra-holy
Rabbi,"of which there is only one in the worldwide Hasidic Jewish Lubavitcher
community. In Catholic terms, but from a Lubavitcher perspective, it would be
like referring to Woody Allen as the Pope. Naturally this was intended as a
satirical spoof and not to be taken literally. Posed as a riddle, the purpose
of the text was to create a parallel between the sentiment of that moment in
the film and what my company and I were experiencing at the time.
At the time of the billboards, my company and I were experiencing the
media fallout resulting from a few sexual harassment lawsuits. There were
false allegations such as that I had conducted a job interview in my underwear
that were sensationalized and exaggerated to the point where my entire persona
was vilified. Today, two years later, all the claims in the lawsuits have been
completely disproven and yet at the time, some writers characterized me as a
rapist and abuser of women, others asserted that I was a bad Jew, and some
even stated that I was not fit to run my company. There are no words to
express the frustration caused by these gross misperceptions, but this
billboard was an attempt to at least make a joke about it.
It is ironic that I have to explain this to Woody Allen, when he has
expressed similar frustrations in the past. More than a decade earlier, Woody
Allen faced what Newsweek called a "bombardment of tabloid missiles and an
outpouring of accusations and counter accusations." Responding to the
allegation that he had molested one of his children, Allen explained to 60
Minutes in 1992 that "a gigantic industry has been built on a total non-event.
And when I say a total non-event, I mean a total non-event. It wasn't as if I
tickled my daughter or something and much has been exaggerated. I am saying (I
did) nothing at all....I don't think I can ever get my reputation back..." I
related personally to this sentiment and expressed a similar one to the Los
Angeles Business Journal, about a year and a half before the billboards went
up, explaining to a reporter that my biggest fear was a "worry that I'm being
misunderstood... in terms of how society perceives me. People may not
understand my philosophy in business. It comes back to the creative process."
My intention was to call upon people to see beyond media and lawsuit-inspired
scandal, and to consider people for their true value and for their
contribution to society.
I feel that the comments of a former friend of Woody Allen, Harvard
professor, and famous civil rights lawyer Allan Dershowitz apply to this
particular phenomenon: "Well let's remember, we have had presidents... from
Jefferson, to Roosevelt, to Kennedy, to Clinton, who have been great
presidents... I think we risk losing some of the best people who can run for
public office by our obsessive focus on the private lives of public figures."
I agree that the increasingly obsessive scrutinization of people's personal
lives and their perceived social improprieties has tragically overshadowed the
great work of too many artists, scientists, entertainers, entrepreneurs,
athletes and politicians, including Woody Allen.
The billboards were designed to inspire dialogue. They were certainly
never intended to sell clothes. (And they didn't. We recently hired a
market-research company to determine the commercial impact, if any, of the
billboards; they found they had no impact on anyone's decision to shop at our
stores.) This was not the first time we used a billboard for something other
than to promote our products. Before and since we've used them to express
social messages-including, for example, our support of immigration reform.
I appreciate Woody Allen's work, but I also appreciate the First
Amendment. Let's not forget that Woody Allen himself has referenced many
public figures over the course of his long career, often for the purpose of
parody, such as Fidel Castro in the movie Bananas. Even Morley Safer, in a
1972 60 Minutes profile of Woody Allen's rising film career, noticed how at
home he was "satirizing Freud and Dostoyevsky." I feel that these social
references and satires are protected by the First Amendment, as was the case
when Larry Flynt used the image of Jerry Falwell, a case which eventually made
the Supreme Court. In that case, the majority opinion clearly stated that: "At
the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental
importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public
interest and concern. The freedom to speak one's mind is not only an aspect of
individual liberty -and thus a good unto itself - but also is essential to the
common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. We have
therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of
ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions."
I have already apologized to Mr. Allen and have tried, through his
lawyers, to explain to him the meaning behind the billboards. Although I am
sorry that I am in conflict with Mr. Allen, I believe I had the right to
express myself in the manner in which I did. Contrary some articles that have
been written about this case, I want to preserve Woody Allen's dignity as well
as my own to the extent that is possible in a dispute of this kind.
In his deposition, Mr. Allen said that he had never heard of American
Apparel or me prior to the billboard. I believe that if Mr. Allen became more
familiar with the company, he might appreciate some aspects of American
Apparel specifically our commitment to creativity.
In any case, I wish him well, no matter what happens with this case.
For further information:
For further information: Marsha Brady, Creative Director, American
Apparel, (917) 559-7895, firstname.lastname@example.org; Adam Levin, Legal
Spokesperson, American Apparel, (310) 312-3116, AXL@msk.com