A man is suing Netflix for his portrayal in its college admissions scandal movie, claiming his children got into school on their own merits Azmi Haroun
A private equity executive accused of bribing Harvard, Stanford, and USC officials to fashion his children as recruited athletes has sued Netflix for defamation over his portrayal in a documentary about the college admissions scandal.
John B. Wilson is awaiting trial and pleaded not guilty during the publicized federal case.
On Tuesday, he sued the streaming giant for defamation, accusing Netflix of portraying him as an accomplice in its documentary "Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal."
Operation Varsity Blues was the code name for a federal investigation into Rick Singer, a college admissions counselor who pleaded guilty to fabricating all or some parts of college applications for more than 750 students. Singer cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigations after being caught, and helped bring charges against 53 parents accused of offering Singer "donations" in exchange for his help in boosting their children's' applications. In many cases, Singer actually fabricated sports careers or enhanced test scores.
Wealthy parents indicted in the scheme included actress Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli and actress Felicity Huffman. All three pleaded guilty and were sentenced to time in prison.
Wilson filed the lawsuit in Superior Court in Essex County, Massachusetts, contending that his children legitimately gained entrance to the universities they attended.
"The Wilson family has been subjected to multiple instances of unfair and inaccurate reporting," the lawsuit said. "In recent days, however, they have been forced to endure the ultimate destruction of their reputations in the eyes of more than 200 million global Netflix subscribers."
"Mr. Wilson made clear that Mr. Wilson and his children could not simply be grouped into a narrative about the many individuals who, unlike Mr. Wilson, have pled guilty to committing crimes," the lawsuit continued. "Among other things, the Wilsons made clear to Defendants that Mr. Wilson's son was a real and talented water polo player who was part of the United States Olympic development program, that his daughters had 99th percentile test scores based on tests that they themselves took, and other publicly available exculpatory information, all of which the Wilsons provided to Defendants."
The lawsuit includes a photo of Wilson's son Johnny taken from the San Jose Mercury News competing in the West Bay Area League swimming championships in 2013, where he won first place in the butterfly.
While Wilson does not deny making donations to Singer, he said the donations were made "in order to assist with (but not guarantee) the admission of his very qualified children to their preferred universities."
According to the press release accompanying Wilson's lawsuit seen by Bloomberg, Wilson's lawyers claimed that the film gives "the false and defamatory impression that the Wilsons engaged in conduct to which others have pled guilty such as having a non-athlete child apply to college as an athlete, photo-shopping pictures to fake their athleticism, and having others take college admissions tests for their children."
The agreement, which replaces a long-term output arrangement with Lionsgate-owned Starz, provides Netflix with an 18-month exclusive window for Sony films. There is a degree of flux in terms of when that window will begin given fast-evolving theatrical window strategies, but dozens of top titles are confirmed to reach Netflix exclusively after they play in theaters and are released on home entertainment platforms.
Given the fast-evolving strategies around theatrical windows at studios and major exhibitors, the exact timeframe is not fully known. But the slate will kick off with tentpoles like Morbius, Uncharted, Where the Crawdads Sing and Bullet Train. Two subsequent windows will keep films circulating on Netflix as they reach other platforms across TV and streaming.
In addition to the main film slate, Netflix will also have a first-look deal for any direct-to-streaming titles Sony is contemplating and has committed to making “a number” of those, per the official announcement. During Covid-19, the studio famously opted to sell Tom Hanks movie Greyhound to Apple TV+ while theaters in many territories were closed. Under the new deal, Netflix would get the first opportunity to release such projects. Sony could go elsewhere if Netflix passes, but the official announcement said the streaming service has committed to making “a number of” such projects. The two companies have done such deals in recent months for films like the Kevin Hart drama Fatherhood.
The companies have also had an existing relationship via an output deal for Sony Pictures Animation. The new agreement adds all other labels and genres from the studio.
Select library rights are also included. As Sony plans installments of franchises like Spider-Man, Venom, Jumanji and Bad Boys, Netflix will be able to gain rights to prior entries. Another high-profile sequel is a followup to Oscar-winning animated title Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
The pact, which comes as rival studios like Universal and Fox are considering a shift from third-party output deals to their own services. It is both a boost for Netflix and a response to skepticism that it has lost key draws like Marvel and Pixar films, Friends and The Office, and to Sony, which has no subscription service of its own to feed.
“Sony Pictures is a great partner and we are thrilled to expand our relationship through this forward-thinking agreement,” Netflix film chief Scott Stuber said in the official announcement. “This not only allows us to bring their impressive slate of beloved film franchises and new IP to Netflix in the U.S., but it also establishes a new source of first run films for Netflix movie lovers worldwide.”
Sony distribution and networks chief Keith Le Goy said this “exciting agreement demonstrates the importance of that content to our distribution partners as they grow their audiences and deliver the very best in entertainment.”
Valuing the deal is complicated given the flexibility inherent in the direct-to-streaming and library components. Output deals, which for decades have been an economic cornerstone for studios, can be worth hundreds of millions to the supplier. Sony and Starz last renewed their output agreement in 2013, not long after Netflix had released House of Cards and had begun disrupting the entertainment landscape. “Even deals from five years ago are not apples-to-apples given how different the landscape is today,” as one person familiar with the deal put it.
Kong: Skull Island helmer Jordan Vogt-Roberts is heading to Netflix for another movie with a larger-than-life hero.
The filmmaker will direct and produce Legendary's first-ever live-action movie based on Gundam, the massively popular anime franchise about giant humanoid robots that do battle in space.
Brian K. Vaughan, of Y: The Last Man and Runaways, is writing the screenplay.
Plot details are being kept under wraps, but the main anime is set in the Universal Century, an era in which the human population has far exceeded its own sustainability and people have emigrated to space colonies. This leads to a war between the colonies, who want their independence, and those still on Earth. The characters of Gundam pilot mobile suits (i.e., big robots) and wage epic battles that have come to shape anime.
EXCLUSIVE:Netflix Chief Talent Officer Jessica Neal, who has headed HR for nearly four years, is exiting the company.
Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, co-CEOs, have just sent a memo to staff with the news. The company confirmed Neal’s departure to Deadline but declined to address questions about the reasons behind her leaving or whether a successor has been chosen.
“We are incredibly grateful to Jessica Neal for building and leading a best-in-class talent organization over these past four years,” Hastings said. “She has been a trusted and valued partner, and we wish her the very best.”
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